MOSCOW — In an effort to demystify homosexuality in Russia through sport, Moscow’s gay community is staging what they are calling an “Open Olympics” just days after the closing ceremony of the Sochi Games.
But the festivities got off to a rocky start when an anonymous bomb threat was called into the gay club just north of Moscow’s city center that was to host tonight’s opening ceremony.
“This is nothing new in our community, unfortunately,” organizer Konstantin Yablotskiy said. He expected the building to be cleared in time for the ceremony later in the evening.
More than 200 people, representing 11 countries and 20 Russian regions, are expected to compete in events ranging from skiing and basketball to table tennis. Participants do not have to be gay to take part. In the evenings, organizers have planned discussions about gay rights and sports. The closing ceremony is scheduled for Sunday.
But the bomb scare forced Yablotskiy and honorary guest Greg Louganis, the American Olympic diving champion, to host a planned kick-off news conference outdoors in the club’s parking lot.
“The aim of these games is to send a positive message to our society, to our authorities, that we are normal people,” Yablotskiy said.
“I think sports transcends many differences, whether it be political differences, religious differences, or views about LGBT people,” Louganis said, noting he was able to relate to Soviet athletes at the height of the Cold War when they competed against each other and hung out together during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
“By being here and supporting these games I hope I can shed a little light on [gay life] and share a part of my world of being gay man living with HIV, but also living a full life and integrated life,” he added.
In addition to lending his star power to the event, Louganis said he’ll participate in the table tennis competition.
“Maybe not real well,” he said with a laugh. “But I just want to be a part and enjoy the festivities and be a part of the celebration.”
The event comes amid what gay rights activists say is a deteriorating climate of attacks and intimidation against the gay community in Russia. The situation has only gotten worse, they said, since Russia passed a so-called gay propaganda law last year, which prohibits even speaking about homosexuality around minors.
Supporters of the law, which remains popular in Russia, say it is meant to protect children. Opponents say it is being used as a pretext to justify violence against gays.