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Russia is doing its best to become the most homophobic nation in the Western world. In the land of Czar Putin, you can ostensibly be punished for telling a child that gay people exist. You can't come out in support of homosexual rights, either. Among many other issues, that is putting Russian athletes in curious situations wherein they have to pretend they've never heard of their country's embarrassing anti-gay laws.

"[There are] calls to boycott the games?" Washington Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin asked reporters in Moscow, referring to the push to say "nyet" to the Sochi Olympics. Meanwhile, in New York, where the U.S. Open is under way, four Russian tennis players—Maria Kirilenko, Vera Dushevina, Nadia Petrova, and Dmitry Tursunov— told USA Today they had never heard of Russia's restrictive new anti-gay legislation. "I didn't hear anything about it," said Maria Kirilenko, the world's 17th-ranked tennis player, who also happens to be Ovechkin's fiancee. 

Perhaps Kirilenko, Ovechkin, and the other three tennis players live in an underground facility and are only fished out by someone with a lantern hours before games and matches. But in reality, it's hard to ignore Russia's bevy of anti-gay laws. After all, even the Kremlin-funded RT news agency has reported on the international furor they've caused.  

The more likely scenario is that Russian athletes are afraid of angering lawmakers back home and are thus trying to keep mum on the subject, hoping the furor will simply pass. A truly patriotic few, like former NHL winger Ilya Kovalchuk, have actually said they like the new homophobic legislation. Earlier this week, the current SKA Saint Petersburg player said, “I agree, of course. I’m Russian, and we all have to respect that. It’s personal and, like I said, it’s a free world, but that’s our line. That’s our country, so everybody has to respect that.

Kovalchuk did not explain why "everyone" has to respect "that."

Yet some Russian athletes aren't taking this route. That requires a lot of waking on eggshells. "We should respect the laws, but I don't want any fights or words," Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the world's 33rd-ranked tennis player said. "Nobody should be arrested, that's for sure," Pavlyuchenkova added. And then there were the two Russian female athletes who kissed after a relay race (though they said, not entirely convincingly, the act had nothing to do with the new anti-gay laws).

Perhaps the bravest of the athletes has been Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has said,"You can be whoever you want to be as long as you're happy." You hear that, Russia?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.