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Moscow Gay Games Hit With Interference and Harassment

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s first open gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) sports competition was disrupted and police incursions this week, organizers said.

U.S. diving gold medalist Greg Louganis (left) and Russia’s LGBT Sports Federation president Konstantin Yablodsky speak to media in Moscow February 26, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The five-day Russian Open comes a week after Russia hosted the Sochi Winter Olympics and draws people from around the world for football, basketball and other sports.

The Sochi Games, a personal prestige project of Russian President Vladimir Putin, came under fire last year when the Russian leader signed a law that critics say discriminates against homosexuals and could encourage hate crimes.

Organizers of the Open had to find some venues on short notice after Russia’s LGBT sports federation learned at the last minute that some of its bookings had been cancelled.

Federation president Konstantin Jablodsky said no written explanation was given and players and fans gathered in secret. Still, organizers said vandalism and other incidents by Moscow police were a daily occurrence during the Games.

“Sport is a human right…Sport must be free from any form of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Jablodsky told reporters on Saturday.

“Unfortunately, in Russia, our right to play sports has been violated. We have limited access to venues … especially yesterday when we had a basketball game … someone threw a smoke bomb and we had to stop.”

Some 330 players and fans, some from Germany, France, the United States and Canada, signed up for the Games.

Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sports Edith Speers presented the medals to the athletes at the Moscow club on Friday.

“It’s very important that everyone in the world can choose their own life,” she told reporters, explaining her support for the Olympics.

Minutes after she left the football tournament on Saturday, police ordered the evacuation of the venue, saying they had received calls warning of a “possible terrorist act”.

Canadian writer Keve Sennett, who has participated in similar sporting events around the world, said she felt compelled to come to Moscow to watch the game.

“After Canada, the U.S., Latin America, etc., this particular event was probably held under the most dangerous circumstances … it’s really important to be here, to be here with a large number of people,” she said.

Another foreigner in attendance was American diver Greg Louganis, an openly gay Olympic champion.

Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Lydia Kelly and Alistair Lyons

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