Saturday, July 12, 2014
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Skater Johnny Weir willing to get arrested at Russian Olympics

Anti-gay laws could lead to protests, confrontations at Winter Games.

Figure skater Johnny Weir, who was born in Coatesville, at the U.S. championships in 2010. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Figure skater Johnny Weir, who was born in Coatesville, at the U.S. championships in 2010. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Johnny Weir, the flamboyant figure skater who was born in Coatesville and who trained in Delaware, recently said he's ready to be arrested if Russia cracks down on gay athletes at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

If Weir makes the U.S. team, as he did in 2006 and 2010, he "theoretically could be arrested or denied entry to the country under a law passed this year banning 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,' which would seem to include public displays of affection by same-sex partners and clothing or statements affirming gay rights," according to CBSNews, which interviewed Weir last week.

Weir, who was raised in Lancaster County and attended Delaware's Newark High School, isn't calling for a boycott, doesn't plan to protest in any way, and said he wouldn't publicly kiss Victor Voronov, the man of Russian descent he married in 2011.

But, he added, "If it takes me getting arrested for people to pay attention, and for people to lobby against this law, then I'm willing to take it ... Like anyone, I'm scared to be arrested. But I'm also not afraid of being arrested."

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    Russian sports minister Vitali Mutko has said coaches, athletes and spectators should be careful.

    “No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable,” said Mutko, according to the Associated Press.

    The International Olympic Committee is warning athletes not to protest about this or any other political issue.

    Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert quipped: "The IOC is just asking gay athletes to knock it off for a couple of weeks, just like at the ’36 Olympics Games Hitler asked Jesse Owens to ease off on the black, you know, ‘don’t be so out there,’ you know?”

    But some athletes have reportedly talked about wearing rainbow pins or holding hands during the opening ceremonies.

    Olympic officials and advertisers could be put into difficult positions, AP sportswriter Jim Litke commented.

    "Does the IOC or a National Olympic Committee, for example, step in and risk the embarrassment of sending an athlete home for a political gesture?" he asks. "Or stand by and say nothing while the local authorities bundle him or her onto the first flight? Do major sponsors like Coca-Cola, Visa, Dow, Omega and Panasonic threaten to pull out? Does NBC report aggressively on every incident? Take the under on those bets."

    President Obama recently told NBC's Jay Leno that Russia wasn't likely to enforce the law at the Olympics.

    Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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