Russia has banned the Warwick Rowers’ annual nude calendar and the group suspects its because it violates the country’s homophobic “gay propaganda” law.
The rowing team at Warwick University in the UK began shooting the nude calendars in 2009 to raise money for their team.
As the calendar grew in popularity, the team used profits to found Sport Allies, an advocacy group fighting homophobia in sport.
But the group says six out of the 23 copies of the 2018 calendar the team had mailed to Russian fans had been returned to them by customs authorities.
Angus Malcolm, one of the calendar’s producers and Sport Allies chairman, said the group hadn’t received any communication from Russia about why the calendars had been rejected.
But the fact they’d made it through British customs suggested it was an issue with the content on the Russian side, he said.
Days later, he said the Warwick Rowers’ website was taken down by a cyber attack they later traced to an IP address in Russia.
“My heart goes out to the rowers’ Russian fans, who are increasingly subjected to acts of hatred and discrimination that shouldn’t be tolerated in any society anywhere across the globe,” he told The Independent.
“The fact Russian customs rejected our calendar is nothing compared to the suffering some LGBT+ people face every day, but it acts as a signifier of the wider problem.
“If they can’t cope with a few naked bums, then frankly that’s quite sad.”
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin was promoting “precisely the kind of toxic masculinity that Sport Allies and the Warwick Rowers want to challenge.”
“This is a bunch of straight men getting their kit off for LGBT rights,” he said.
“With the rise of Putin’s brand of populism around the world, we have never needed straight allies like the Warwick Rowers more than we do now.”
Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2013, bans the public representation of LGBTI people to children, effectively outlawing pride marches and similar demonstrations across the country.
A spokesman for London’s Russian embassy told The Independent they weren’t aware of the case but reiterated the country’s ban on gay propaganda was a law “against promotion of non-traditional sexual relations among minors”.
Take a look at some of the shots from the new calendar below, and visit their Instagram page for more.