Vitaly Mutko

IOC unmoved by Russian sports minister saying anti-gay law will be enforced during Sochi Olympics

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Russia will indeed enforce a new law against gay rights activism during the Sochi Olympics, its sports minister told R-Sport on Thursday, but the International Olympic Committee remains unfazed.

“An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi,” Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko told R-Sport. “But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”

The IOC responded.

“For the time being, we rest with the assurances we have … that this law will not affect either athletes, officials or spectators,” spokesman Andrew Mitchell told R-Sport in an email.

R-Sport understands that the source of the assurances cited by the IOC outranks Mutko.

Last week, the IOC said it “received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

Russia passed a law in June banning gay “propaganda.” Some have called for Olympic boycotts, including through petitions. The law includes fines up to $3,000, 15 days in prison and even deportation, according to The Associated Press.

Imposing fines on individuals accused of spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors, and even proposing penalties for those who express these views online or in the news media. Gay pride rallies also are banned.

Also on Thursday, two-time U.S. Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, who came out in January 2011, wrote in his weekly column that he has been invited to perform in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“With luck on my side, I will be there come October,” he wrote in the Falls Church (Va.) News-Press

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Syria-born Olympian takes advocacy role at U.N. refugee agency

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GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. refugee agency has chosen as a goodwill ambassador a Syrian teenage girl who helped save a boat carrying fellow refugees and later became an Olympic swimmer.

Yusra Mardini was appointed as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador on Thursday, joining other notables like actress Cate Blanchett and author Khaled Hosseini in the unpaid advocacy role.

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said Mardini “represents the hopes, the fears and the incredible potential of the more than 10 million young refugees around the globe.”

Mardini and her sister Sarah jumped overboard and swam for hours alongside their overloaded boat to reach Greece from Turkey in 2015.

She swam on the first Refugee Olympic team in Rio last year and has discussed refugees’ challenges with leaders like Pope Francis and President Barack Obama.

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Rafael Nadal recreates famous 1992 Olympic cauldron lighting

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Rafael Nadal, owner of two Olympic gold medals, recently parroted arguably the most famous moment in Spanish Olympic history.

Nadal and Marc Lopez, the 2016 Olympic doubles champions, took up bows and arrows and joined archer Antonio Rebollo on Monday at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Stadium. It brought back memories of Rebollo’s unforgettable cauldron lighting from the only Olympics held in Spain.

Nadal is in Barcelona for an ATP Tour event as he prepares to vie for a 10th French Open title next month.

Rebollo, now 61 years old, was one of 200 hundred archers considered to light the cauldron in 1992. He learned that he was chosen for the role over four other finalists two hours ahead of time, according to an NBC Olympics profile in 1996.

The cauldron would be 195 feet away. Fearing Rebollo would miss the target, organizers instructed him to fire his arrow beyond the stadium walls. As the arrow soared, a technician lit the natural gas flame with a remote control.

The illusion worked. The true story wasn’t revealed for another 20 years.

“There were no fears,” Rebollo, a Barcelona native who contracted polio at age 8, told NBC two decades ago. “I was practically a robot. I focused on my positioning and reaching the target. That was all. … My feelings were taken from the people who described to me how they saw it. What they felt, their emotions, their cries. This is what made me realize what the moment actually meant.”

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