By Keith Weir
SOCHI Russia Feb 5 Telecoms company AT&T, a
sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team, has publicly criticised Winter
Games host Russia over its "gay propaganda" law, adding to the
pressure on other major companies to speak out.
Protesters had focused on getting the 10 global Olympic
sponsors to take a tougher stand ahead of Friday's opening
ceremony but will welcome the support of such a well known
company as AT&T.
A law passed last year outlaws promotion of homosexuality
among minors. Russia's critics argue that the legislation
fosters a climate of discrimination against lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in Russia.
"Russia's law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families,
and it's harmful to a diverse society," AT&T said in a blog post
headlined: "A Time for Pride and Equality."
"We also want to be on record with our support for the LGBT
community, and we hope that others involved with the Olympic
Games will do the same," it added.
The issue has caused embarrassment to companies including
McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble who pay around $100
million each for rights to sponsor the Olympics over a four-year
period and want to tap into a feel-good atmosphere during the
"These brands have spent millions to align themselves with
the Olympics, but have repeatedly refused to support the
founding principles of the Games," said Andre Banks, who is
based in New York and is one of the founders of gay rights group
The major sponsors have said they are opposed to
discrimination but say it is up to the International Olympic
Committee (IOC) to ensure the Games are free of prejudice.
Rights groups accuse them of failing to live up to their
commitment to support diversity. Some analysts believe that
sponsors have toned down their marketing efforts around the Feb.
7-23 Sochi Games because of the bad publicity.
Athletes who wish to speak out risk falling foul of another
IOC rule outlawing political protests at Games.
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,
who has come to Sochi.
"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.