A day after Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko stated that a controversial anti-gay law would be enforced at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Patrick Burke, co-founder of You Can Play, an advocacy group for gay athletes, once again took to the media to condemn the legislation and spoke against an athlete boycott of the Games.
"Every gay athlete that I have spoken too has said universally that they want to go. There is not one gay athlete that I have spoken too who is competing in these games who is in favour of a boycott or in favour of staying home, gay athletes want to show up, they want to compete they want to show what they can do," Burke said in a television interview with the CBC Friday. "The Russian Laws are based on the ideas that gay people are somehow weaker or wrong, or lesser. If you a win an Olympic gold medal and you are gay doesn't that show exactly the opposite of that."
Burke helped found the group just over a year ago, after the death of his brother, Brendan, who was an openly gay athlete. Brendan died in a car accident in March 2010. Patrick helped form the organization with amongst others, his father Brian Burke, former president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and now a scout with the Anaheim Ducks. You Can Play co-signed a statement as part of the LGBT Sports Coaliton which has formed to speak out against what has come to be known as the gay propaganda law.
"Rather than talk about boycotts, the LGBT Sports Coalition is focused on participation," the group said in a release Thursday. The statement continues, "We did not choose Russia to host these Winter Games. However, we can use it as an opportunity to showcase the damage of repressive governments like that of President (Vladimir) Putin."
The law which has been characterized as ambiguous, was signed by President Putin in June and is designed to crack down those that are involved in "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations." Mutko fueled the fire by telling R-Sport, the sports arm of the state newswire that although LGBT athletes are welcome at Sochi, they will be held accountable if they were to "go out in the streets and start to propagandize."
While the law seems murky, the ramifications are quite clear in Burke's eyes. "Its not just being gay that's illegal, its being pro-gay. So anyone who has done a video for the You Can Play project is eligible for arrest," said Burke, before rattling off some notable Canadian NHL stars who may be under the spotlight in Sochi. "For Canada that's gonna include Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos, possibly Carey Price. These are all guys that are technically eligible for arrest."
At this juncture it appears that the backlash against the ruling may be swaying the powers that be in Russia. According to website RT.COM, Igor Ananskikh, the head of the Russian Duma Committee on Physical Training, Sports and Youth, softened the government's tone one day after Mutko's comments. “The Olympics is a major international event. Our task is to be as politically correct and tolerant as we can be. That’s why we made the decision not to raise this issue during the Games."