Shortly after Russia won the women’s 400m relay at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow, two team members created a political firestorm after celebrating their victory by kissing. Moments later, Kseniya Rhzhova and Yulia Guschina kissed again after they accepted their gold medals on the victory podium. Almost instantaneously, worldwide speculation arose whether the pair was making a very public protest against the country’s recently enacted anti-gay laws.
Rhzhova made public comments on Monday, insisting the two kisses were not meant to be a political statement, nor meant to show support to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Instead their emotional gesture was simply a way to celebrate their victory, after edging Team USA, by a split second. When asked about personal feelings towards LGBT rights, the Russian track star declined to comment, before saying she and Yulia were both married.
Russia has been at the center of controversy, after anti-gay laws were unanimously passed by the country’s State Duma, then approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June. Among the new laws in effect are banning propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors, gay rallies, and fines for individuals who make public comments against the new restrictive laws.
With Russia hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, multiple campaigns have called for the U.S., the U.K. and other countries to boycott the games in response to the oppressive anti-gay restrictions. One Facebook page, “Boycott 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia”, has nearly 50,000 likes and a petition created through whitehouse.gov had considerable interest in a boycott. However President Obama said earlier this month “I do not think it’s appropriate to boycott the Olympics”, citing American athletes who have trained hard to compete in the greatest amateur sporting event for winter sports.
Although Russia’s Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko has said the rights of Olympic athletes will be respected, some may risk imprisonment for making statements in support of gay rights. With the 2014 Winter Olympics on the world’s stage, amid widespread criticism of Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws, political statements from athletes and fans are a distinct possibility when the Winter Olympics begin in February.