Ovechkin silent on gay law, Sochi security no issue

By Karolos Grohmann

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (Reuters) - Russian ice hockey player Alexander Ovechkin, who will become the second torchbearer for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Sunday, refused to comment on Russia's controversial anti-gay law that threatens to disrupt preparations for February's Games.

"I am just a hockey player. This is something for the politicians," Ovechkin said when asked by Reuters whether the law was an obstacle as Russia prepares to host its first winter Olympics.

Critics say the law which bars the spread of information concerning homosexuality among minors, in effect curtails all gay rights rallies and could be used to prosecute anyone voicing support for homosexuals.

Supporters say it will help protect children.

The legislation is part of a broader attempt by President Vladimir Putin to win over Russians in the mostly conservative country following protests against his rule among urban and often middle-class voters over his return to the Kremlin in May 2012.

Ovechkin, the 28-year-old Washington Capitals winger, will be the first Russian to run with the torch after 18-year-old Greek alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou will take it out of the ancient stadium in southern Greece, the birthplace of the ancient Olympics.

The Russian was more vocal on the subject of security concerns in Sochi due to its proximity to the volatile North Caucasus region.

"I have a lot of friends in the United States and I tell them it will be great," he told reporters.

"It is going to be safe. I do not think it is such a big deal. There will be a lot of security. I do not think something dangerous will happen."

Putin has staked his reputation on hosting a safe and successful Winter Olympics in February. He said this month that security in the region was improving too slowly.

On Friday, Russian security forces killed five suspected militants in the North Caucasus province of Dagestan including one believed to be a local Islamist insurgent leader, law enforcement authorities said.

(Editing by John O'Brien)


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