If two-time Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir wins one of two spots to represent the United States at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, he may have more to worry about then just trying to win a medal.
Weir, who is openly gay, 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.
Russia has seen an outbreak of violence against gay rights advocates, with LGBT supporters facing seemingly motivated by anti-gay sentiment taking place this year.from anti-gay protesters. Violence against gay Russians has been a longstanding issue, with at least murders
"In Russia, just the sheer fact that you could be gay, you can get arrested, fined, and it's a terrible thing to even think of," he said. "Myself, even, just walking down the street, going to get Starbucks in the morning, and somebody could arrest me just because I look too gay."
Weir considers Russia to be "the most magnificent place in the world," as he put it in an interview with CBSNews.com. He said that he became obsessed with the country's buildings, its tsars and fur coats as a child; he eventually learned the Russian language anda man of Russian descent after his sixth-place finish at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
He now fears that he may never be allowed back in the country to see friends and relatives, and to compete at the Sochi games in six months if he makes the U.S. team. (Weir has stiff competition in his quest; the team will be selected in January.) Unlike openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup of New Zealand, who has, Weir does not plan to broadcast his sexuality in Russia in a challenge to the law. He will not wear a rainbow flag or a "pin of two men kissing," he said; if he performs well, he will not kiss his husband sitting in the stands. "I can kiss him when I get to my hotel," said Weir.
It is not clear whether Russia will prosecute gay Olympic athletes or tourists during the Games; while the International Olympic Committee says it has assurances that they will not be targeted, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko says those who engage in what the government considers propaganda will be "held accountable." Mutko later added, however, that the rights of athletes "will be protected" when it comes to their private life.
The Olympic charter bars political gestures during the Games, which means that an athlete could theoretically be sanctioned for speaking out against the anti-gay laws, though it seems unlikely that the International Olympic Committee would take such a step. The IOC has said that the games "should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes." Both the IOC and U.S. Olympic Committee have been criticized for not taking a strong stand against the Russian anti-gay laws, though it is not clear that either organization could have done much to change them.
Weir strongly opposes calls to boycott the Games over the anti-gay laws, which he said would only hurt athletes who have trained their whole lives to compete; "Would the Olympics be in Saudi Arabia, in Palestine, in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Mars, I would go," he said. "Because that's what I'm trained to do and that's what I've devoted my life to."
He added that his presence in Sochi could help rally opposition to the anti-gay legislation and the treatment of LGBT Russians. He said he has made peace with the possibility of being arrested.
"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," he said, adding: "Like anyone, I'm scared to be arrested. But I'm also not afraid of being arrested."