The United States Olympic Committee has “clarified” its position on the Russian anti-gay propaganda law, stating that “[R]estricting the right to act and speak in support of the LGBT community are inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Olympic and Paralympic movements.”
That statement, from USOC communications chief Patrick Sandusky,” was not as strong as it might appear. Earlier in the week, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said that it was his “strong desire that our athletes comply with the laws of every nation we visit.”
In other words; Putin is a bigot but athletes should keep their mouths shut about it.
Saying that the role of the USOC is “to make sure that our athletes are prepared to compete and aren’t distracted while they’re here,” Blackmun continued, “We’re a sports organization, and we’ll leave the diplomacy on the legal issues to the diplomats, and we’re not going to get involved.”
The response sparked questions from some quarters about what the USOC’s position was on the law, leading to Sandusky’s clarification Friday morning:
At the same time, BuzzFeed also has obtained a letter from Blackmun dated August 12, in which he wrote to the “U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Family,” in part:
There have been conflicting media reports regarding the applicability of the laws during the Games, and we continue to seek assurances that athletes, delegation members, the media and fans will be safe while attending the Games next year. Whether or not we receive those assurances, however, I want you to know how we feel about the law itself.
We strongly support equal rights for all and believe that laws restricting the right to act and speak in support of the LGBT community are inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. We have shared our views with the IOC. At the same time, however, we cannot forget that we are first and foremost a sports organization. Our mission is to help enable American athletes to win medals at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Our overriding obligation is to deliver a well-prepared team and to support our athletes, all of them. That is where we will direct our energies.
It remains unclear, however, what the U.S. Olympic Committee’s response will be should such “assurances” not be reached and what formal guidance the committee will give to U.S. athletes about the law.
There may not be any more “assurances” coming from the Russian government. Russian officials have made it clear that the law will be enforced during the Olympics. As far as “guidance” to US athletes are concerned, it is assumed that US athletes will be bound by “Rule 51” of the Olympic charter which forbids political speech of any kind.
It is inevitable that politics will intrude somewhere or someplace in the Olympics. The games may have led to the suspension of wars in the past, but it is impossible to suspend politics. The worry shouldn’t be with the athletes but with the flood of LGBT activists who will almost certainly descend on the games to challenge the Russian law. Would the US continue to participate in games while people were being rounded up for demonstrating for gay rights? Probably yes, but the incongruity would not be lost on the cynical Putin.
Putin appears to be winning this battle. There will be no boycott. The law will be enforced — if only against Russian gays. And Putin has humbled politicians like President Obama who promote the concept of gay rights.
Putin is doing a little resetting of his own.