SBD/October 22, 2013/Olympics

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  • Scott Blackmun Says It's Not USOC's Role To Advocate Change In Russia Anti-Gay Laws

    Blackmun wants the IOC to clarify its rules on political demonstrations in Sochi

    USOC CEO Scott Blackmun last week sent members of Congress a letter explaining the organization's stance on Russia's anti-gay propaganda law. He said that the organization supports equal rights and believes "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." But Blackmun wrote, "As a sports organization, we do not believe it is our role to advocate for a change in Russia's laws or to organize protests. Our mission is focused and it is clear -- to help enable American athletes to win medals at the Olympic and Paralympic Games." Blackmun added that the USOC is "actively seeking clarification" from the IOC of Rule 50 in the Olympic Charter, which prohibits political demonstrations during the Games. The IOC is expected to provide more information about how it will enforce the rule in December. The letter was sent a week after the USOC BOD revised its non-discrimination policy to include a specific reference to sexual orientation. The organization's leadership has said it would support the IOC making a similar revision to the Olympic Charter. The USOC briefed sponsors on Blackmun’s letter last week and also shared an October letter Blackmun received from 41 members of Congress. The Representatives letter called on the USOC to make sure that “any American athlete, or someone associated with an American team, is afforded the right to show solidarity with, and support of, LGBT people around the globe to be free from discrimination and harm.” Members of Congress also wanted to know if gay, lesbian or bisexual athletes would be in violation of IOC rules or Russian law if they discussed their same-sex partner during interviews.

    GROWING CONCERN: The letters underscore just how controversial Russia’s anti-gay legislation has become ahead of the Sochi Games. The rule led advocates to write letters of concern to Olympic sponsors and call for a boycott of the Games by the IOC, USOC and other national Olympic committees. In addition to capturing the attention of Congress, it also has captured the attention of the White House. Shortly after winning the IOC presidency, Thomas Bach received a letter from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry regarding the law. Kerry wrote, “The IOC’s impressive history of standing on principle underscores that advocating for the universality of human rights is a global moral imperative, one completely consistent with the IOC’s mission. This proud tradition gives us faith the IOC will take a principled stance in support of human rights in Russia.”

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