sochiIn the run-up to next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, over 50 current and former Olympians have urged Russian authorities to repeal the recently introduced anti-gay laws.

Fifty two Olympians in total, 12 of whom will be competing in Sochi, have criticised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for not doing enough to force Russia to scale back the current anti-gay laws. The protesting Olympians include American snowboarding gold medallist Seth Wescott and the Australian four-man bobsled team. Tennis players Andy Roddick and Martina Navratilova have also pledged their support.

Megan Rapinoe, who won gold in the women’s football at the London Olympics in 2012, told The Guardian: “I understand and respect that the Olympics are not the time nor place for political statements, but this is far beyond any kind of statement. People’s lives and their well being are in danger, and that goes far beyond anything the Olympics stand for. I think it is important to talk about it and have an ongoing conversation during these Games, and not have this issue silenced.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently tried to explain the anti-gay laws, insisting that they aren’t intended to discriminate against gays and are simply there to protect children.

In June 2013, Russia passed laws banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” towards minors, and there has been an increasingly hostile atmosphere towards the country’s LGBT community.

The Sochi Olympics begin on February 7 and run until February 23. US President Barack Obama is aiming to showcase “diversity” at the games by sending an Olympic delegation including several openly gay sports stars – among them, six-times Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King.

> Putin: Gays at Olympics OK if they leave children in peace