Google makes a point on gay rights at Sochi Games

SOCHI, Russia Fri Feb 7, 2014 5:49pm IST

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SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Google has placed a rainbow version of its logo on its search page, increasing pressure on President Vladimir Putin over Russia's "gay propaganda" law at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The page now shows a winter sports competitor above each of the six letters in the U.S. Internet giant's name, set against backgrounds in the six colours on the gay pride flag - red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.

The page also includes a quote from the Olympic charter underlining the right to practise sport without discrimination.

"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play," it says.

Google Inc. did not immediately comment.

The international outcry over the law, signed by Putin last year, threatens to undermine his hopes of using the Games to portray Russia as a modern state that has come a long way since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Putin says the legislation, banning gay propaganda among minors, is needed to protect young people. Critics says it fosters a climate of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups.

Telecoms company AT&T, a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team, criticised Russia this week over the law, increasing pressure on other companies to speak out.

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights organisation, praised Google for what it called a move to show solidarity with LGBT Russians and visiting athletes.

"Google has once again proven itself to be a true corporate leader for equality," HRC President Chad Griffin said.

"Alongside Olympic sponsors like AT&T, Google has made a clear and unequivocal statement that Russia's anti-LGBT discrimination is indefensible. Now it's time for each and every remaining Olympic sponsor to follow their lead. The clock is ticking, and the world is watching."

PRESSURE ON SPONSORS

Companies including McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble pay around $100 million each for rights to sponsor the Olympics over a four-year period and want to tap into a feel-good atmosphere during the Games.

These companies are also facing pressure to speak out over the "gay propaganda" law.

"These brands have spent millions to align themselves with the Olympics, but have repeatedly refused to support the founding principles of the Games," Andre Banks, one of the founders of gay rights group All Out, said earlier this week.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned sexual discrimination and attacks on homosexuals in a speech to the International Olympic Committee in Sochi on Thursday which also drew attention to Russia's record on gay rights.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said shortly afterwards in Sochi that there would be no discrimination at the Games, due to open later on Friday.

"We're all grown-ups and every adult has the right to understand their sexuality," Kozak said. But, echoing a remark by Putin, he added: "Please do not touch kids."

(Reporting By Timothy Heritage)

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