A British gay Paralympic athlete is to risk jail and deportation at next year’s Winter Games held in Russia next year.
Lee Pearson MBE, a 39-year-old equestrian athlete who has won 10 Paralympic golds, has said he will travel to Sochi and hopes to ‘embarrass’ Russia.
After the introduction of ‘gay propaganda’ laws by Vladimir Putin’s government, last weekend alone there were 67 arrests in St Petersburg.
‘I don’t care if it means I go to prison,’ Pearson told the Mail On Sunday, describing the situation in Russia as ‘shocking’ and like the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
‘In some respects, I hope I do because then the Prime Minister and my country would have to get involved, and that would add to the embarrassment for Russia.’
While some agree speaking out during the Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, others say a total boycott is a better idea.
‘Those who are calling for a boycott don’t understand that the Olympics and Paralympics could be the one chance these sportsmen and women have to achieve their goals,’ Pearson said.
‘It’s much more powerful to be there than not. ‘But the bigger reason for not boycotting Sochi is that you’d simply be putting your head in the sand.
‘Isn’t it much better to educate Russians and shed more light on the legislation both in Russia and worldwide?’
He added: ‘We shouldn’t ignore this. I am very proud of what I have achieved in sport, but the most important thing I will ever do is to make a stand and help educate Russia and the world about discrimination.
‘Winning medals does not compare to something like that.’
Pearson was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenital, a rare disorder meaning his muscles grew like scar tissue in the womb, leaving his limbs twisted.
Under the law, any tourist who speaks out on gay rights could be arrested, held up to 15 days and deported from the country.
But while it may appear sometimes like there is no hope in Russia, gay rights activists believe they may have found the chink in the armor – a legal loophole that could force the government to repeal the law.