Did Russian Runners Kiss To Protest Anti-Gay Laws?

On Saturday, two Russian athletes celebrated their relay-race win by kissing on the podium at Moscow's World Athletics Championship. Originally reported as a "public protest" against Russia's new national anti-gay laws, Russia has reportedly decided that the kiss was only a "congratulatory" gesture.

Right. Just a potentially illegal, congratulatory gesture.

The two athletes, Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova, had just won the 4 x 400m race with their teammates. Neither has publicly commented on the kiss, but it could land them in legal hot water — and by "in hot water," we mean "criminal charges." The anti-gay law, signed in by President Putin on July 29, bans (and we quote) "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations." The financial penalty for promoting gay propaganda in the media is the equivalent of $3,000.

Meanwhile, the country has also decided that the Western outcry against its brand-new law is an "invented problem" by our media. Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said yesterday:

It is the informational protection of the young generation. We want to prevent the young generation, whose psyche has not been formulated. We want to protect them against drunkenness, drugs and non-traditional sexual relations. We want them to grow up and when they become adults they have to define what they want.

On Thursday, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva seemed to defend the country's new law when she said: "We [Russians] consider ourselves, like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, girls with boys." After a furious international backlash ensued, Isinbayeva hastily retracted her comment, saying that her English wasn't brilliant, and that she only intended to point out that foreigners should respect other country's traditions. Or, you know, discriminations.

As the 2014 Winter Olympics grow closer, calls to boycott the Games in protest are escalating. Though President Obama has made it clear he won't authorize a boycott, a growing number of American athletes and key international figures have spoken out in support of protest — but no countries have withdrawn their role in the Games yet. (There has however been a more successful international boycott of Russian vodka in response to the initial enactment of the law.)

British academic Stephen Fry even went so far as to compare the situation to the 1936 Games in Nazi Germany. Here's his open letter:

Dear Prime Minister, M Rogge, Lord Coe and Members of the International Olympic Committee,
I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations inflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.
Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma.