MOSCOW (Reuters) - Multiple American 800m champion Nick Symmonds has become the first competitor at the world athletics championships to criticize Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law but maintains he will say no more out of respect for the host nation.
Symmonds, fifth in last year’s Olympic 800m final and a medal prospect in Moscow next week, wrote in his blog for Runner’s World magazine that he “disagreed” with the controversial new legislation, which outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and has become a political hot potato for next year’s Sochi winter Olympics, when it will apply to athletes and spectators.
U.S. President Barack Obama weighed into the controversy late on Tuesday, saying he had “no patience” for Russia on the issue, while other senior sporting figures have also spoken out against the development.
“Several people who know me to be a relatively vocal athlete when it comes to political issues were excited to hear me discuss what it’s like to compete in a country with questionable human rights laws,” Symmonds wrote.
“Given that I have always been adamant in my support of gay rights at home in the United States, I assumed these followers were referring to Russia’s ‘anti-gay propaganda’ legislation.
“These laws, which do not expressly prohibit being homosexual, criminalize public discussion of homosexuality, especially with foreigners. As an American, I believe in freedom of speech and equality for all, and therefore disagree with the laws that Russia has put in place.
“I will say, once again, that our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) neighbors deserve all the same rights as the rest of us. However, as an American who is about to reside in Moscow for 12 days, this will be the last time I will mention this subject.
“I say this not out of fear of prosecution by the Russian government, but out of respect for the fact that I will be a guest in the host nation. Just as I would not accept a dinner invite to a friend’s house and then lecture them on how to raise their kids, neither will I lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people.
“If I am placed in a race with a Russian athlete, I will shake his hand, thank him for his country’s generous hospitality, and then, after kicking his ass in the race, silently dedicate the win to my gay and lesbian friends back home. Upon my return, I will then continue to fight for their rights in my beloved democratic union.”
In an interview on NBC’s Tonight Show, Obama said he had “no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them”.
He added: “Every judgment should be made on the track, or in the swimming pool, or on the balance beam, and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.”
Last week Puerto Rican International Olympic Committee presidential candidate Richard Carrion spoke strongly against the legislation.
“A condition to getting the Olympic Games in the future should be to make sure the city does not have laws that discriminate against people in anyway, consistent with the Olympic Charter,” he said.
“I strongly believe in equal rights, including the right to practice sport, for every human regardless of race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation.”
Stephen Fry, the openly gay British writer and television personality, on Wednesday published an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, IOC President Jacques Rogge and London Olympics head Sebastian Coe comparing the Sochi Games to the Nazi-run 1936 Berlin summer Olympics, which he said were a “stain on the Five Rings”.
“The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this (Nazi) evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Fuerhrer and only increased his status at home and abroad,” Fry wrote.
“Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police ...
“He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it.
“It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma.
“An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere ... at all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilized world.”
Editing by Stephen Wood