Aussie athletes urge Russia reconsider anti-gay laws

(AAP)

Australian Winter Olympians Belle Brockhoff and Heath Spence have added their names to an online petition calling for Russia to cease its crackdown on gays

Australian duo Belle Brockhoff and Heath Spence are among 50 past and present Olympians to add their names to a growing petition calling on Russia to cease its crackdown on gays ahead of the Sochi Winter Games.

The online petition, which has gathered more than 405,000 signatures worldwide, appears on the websites of global equality group All Out and Athlete Ally, which tackles homophobia in sports.

In a statement, the two groups also announced protests will be held in Moscow, Sochi, London, Rio de Janeiro and other cities on February 5, two days before the start of one of the most controversial Olympic Games in years.

Snowboarder Brockhoff, bobsleigh pilot Spence and Canadian skier Mike Janyk are among the athletes to sign the petition which states: "We stand with citizens across Russia who are calling on their government to stop the crackdown against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people that is fuelling anti-gay violence."

Brockhoff said in December that while she didn't want to be involved in organised protests at the Games she still wished to raise awareness about inequalities in the sporting sphere.

The Victorian will promote and wear 'Principle Six' merchandise, a clothing line supported by All Out and Athlete Ally during the Games.

Principle Six is based on convention of the IOC charter which states that any form of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with the Olympic movement.

All Out's New York-based executive director Andre Banks said Olympic sponsors also bear a responsibility to speak out against new laws in Russia directed at the LGBT community.

Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov told the BBC this week that gays and lesbians were welcome to attend the Winter Games so long as they "respect the rules of the Russian Federation".

Earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin said homosexuals could feel "relaxed" about attending the Olympics - but also suggested that they "leave children alone, please".

All Out's advocacy counsel Shawn Gaylord said anti-gay laws in Russia, including legislation that equates homosexuality with paedophilia, was having "really devastating effects" in its LGBT community.

"We support the athletes, but we also think it's important when we're talking about vital human rights issues that those don't get lost in the mix," said Gaylord.

Arkady Gyngazov, former manager of Moscow's Central Station nightclub, a popular gay venue recently targeted by gunfire and gas attacks, feared for what might come after the Games.

"I think it will be worse, because the focus of international pressure will disappear and the government will start doing everything they want," said Gygnazov, who is seeking asylum in the United States citing anti-gay harassment.

Source: AAP

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