SOCHI Russia Feb 5 With the Winter Olympics
only two days away, campaigners have urged major corporate
sponsors to speak out about the way Games host Russia treats gay
Activists from the All Out gay rights group were staging
protests in 20 cities around the world on Wednesday, with plans
to gather outside branches of Olympic sponsor McDonald's in New
York and Paris.
Rights groups have also written to the heads of the 10
global Olympic sponsors -- which also include U.S. consumer
goods group Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola -- calling on them to
use their marketing to promote equality.
"All Out members and global consumers are calling on Olympic
sponsors to finally speak out against the persecution of gays
and lesbians in Russia," said Andre Banks, who is based in New
York and is one of the founders of All Out.
"These brands have spent millions to align themselves with
the Olympics, but have repeatedly refused to support the
founding principles of the Games," he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin wants the Games in Sochi to
showcase a strong, modern Russia but international attention has
also focused on a law passed last year that critics say fuels
discrimination against gays and lesbians.
The issue has caused embarrassment for the major companies
who pay around $100 million each for rights to sponsor the
Olympics over a four-year period and want to tap into a feelgood
atmosphere at Games time.
Sponsors have said they are opposed to discrimination but
say it is up to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to
ensure that the Games are free of prejudice.
Athletes face a dilemma over whether to speak out and risk
falling foul of another IOC rule outlawing political protests at
Athlete Ally, a group formed to fight homophobia in sport,
is running a campaign based on Principle 6 of the Olympic
charter, the section which pledges equality for all.
It is using the Principle 6 tag on social media and a range
of clothing to get its message across and sees it as a way for
athletes to make their point within the rules.
"We're working with a number of athletes that we know care
very deeply about the LBGT community both in Russia and around
the world," said Athlete Ally executive director Hudson Taylor.
"We're trying to find that balance of helping athletes speak
out but also being respectful of what they are here to
accomplish," he added.