Russia affirms security for gay athletes
Security for gay athletes has been an issue in the run-up to the Winter Games.
MOSCOW - Australia's Olympic team have been reassured by Russian President Vladimir Putin's promise that gay athletes will be welcome at next year's Winter Games in Sochi, Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman said on Wednesday.
Russia's adoption of a law banning homosexual "propaganda" among minors in June provoked a wave of criticism in the West and calls from some gay rights groups for a boycott of the Games.
Putin moved to defuse the criticism on Monday by pronouncing that "participants and guests would feel comfortable in Sochi regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation".
Along with the possibility of terror attacks by Chechen or other Islamist militants, it was the main issue threatening to overshadow the run-up to the Games, through which Putin hopes to showcase the modern face of Russia.
Chesterman, who has just returned from an inspection visit to the Black Sea resort, said he was "comfortable" on both counts.
"We have been aware of and dealing with these in the lead up to the Games," he told a news conference in Sydney marking the 100 day countdown to the opening ceremony.
"We are very comfortable with both situations and particularly the gay rights issue.
"We have received strong assurances in the past from leading Russian officials and now with the president coming out very strong yesterday and giving his assurances, our athletes can go to the Games relaxed and able to enjoy themselves which is the way it should be."
Chesterman also said Australia's Winter squad would follow the lead the Summer team plans for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro by making their bases in Sochi alcohol-free zones.
"We are taking the same move in Sochi and the villages will be dry of alcohol," he said.
"We want to create an environment where it is all about performance. I've got to say it has not been an issue with the teams I have been involved with since 1994, so I don't sense that it is a problem but the time is right to do it."
Unlike in the Summer Games, Australia has never been a big player in the Winter Olympics with a total of five gold medals from 18 appearances.