I think it's a danger to the athletes for one very simple reason: Russia has placed a cultural norm into law and has threatened to enforce it (and I know it's under debate but I don't particularly care whether they're playing Reversi or not - they did threaten to enforce it, and we have no way of knowing in advance whether they will or not).
It isn't a universal cultural norm like "don't kill people", or even something black and white like "your arms and legs must be covered at all times while you are outside of your hotel room". They have put an unusual, insular, slippery, poorly-defined cultural norm into law. "Just don't be gay."
So they have a poorly-defined law, a slippery concept in general, and - by the way, have they set any kind of structured punishment for being gay? Is it like a tiered system? Can you be convicted of gay in the third degree? How is that different from gay in the first degree? Is there jail time involved? Fines? Where is the burden of proof in Russian courts?
I am certain that the Olympic athletes will be briefed on such things, if they have able handlers.
I am not altogether certain that supporters, visitors... foreigners, essentially... will be so well-protected. The danger to the athletes is heavy enough, but what about the danger to Plain Joe in the street? What if he's gay, and the poor, offended majority (really, are you fucking serious?) of Russians around him find that out? Jeering, catcalling - these things are frightening at home, but they are downright dangerous when you're on the home turf of the people who hate you. Given the national climate described, I am personally very afraid that a couple things could happen.
1. Someone is attacked and beaten severely. This happened to protesters, and there is no information as to whether it was with impunity or not but frankly I don't care. Someone can be hurt. Someone can be killed. Not just the athletes - not just the staff. It is clearly a volatile and touchy issue.
2. Quite frankly, all the attention shined at the Olympics is bound to draw people seeking attention - which includes pro-rights activists. So what happens when a protest, and possibly a counter-protest, happens right outside the Games... or along a crowded thoroughfare? Agitating in favor of deviant sexual behavior or whatever the hell the law says, is also punishable by law as far as I could tell. On a busy, crowded street full of potential spectators as well as protesters, arrests are likely to get messy. Again, this endangers people who are there to enjoy the Games, who have chosen to attend.
Choosing not to boycott is practically a health risk, for chrissake.
And please understand that when I say this, I am not making a commentary on the physical state of Russian jails or anything, but frankly I wouldn't want to go to my own country's jails and I more than certainly would never want to wind up in another country's jails. Ever. It makes things dangerous, it makes things complicated, and it makes them unsafe whether you are gay, straight, flaming, mellow, or anything in between.
If the Games shouldn't be used as a political mallet, then perhaps Russia should have taken pains to make sure that they weren't turned into one. Don't care if the bill has been a long time in coming - the point is that it came now and I don't
thing think the Russian government is quite naive enough to think that the timing wouldn't affect worldwide reaction to it. As far as I can tell, they've fired the shot across the bow with this and they really have no right to bitch that the world heard the ka-boom.
Edit for typo.