So far, nothing but silence from Olympians on Russia’s anti-gay laws

Morry Gash, APWomen's normal hill ski jumping silver medalist Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, who is openly gay, smiles during the medals ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.
Morry Gash, AP
Women’s normal hill ski jumping silver medalist Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, who is openly gay, smiles during the medals ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

SOCHI, Russia — A campaign to draw attention to Russia’s anti-gay laws isn’t gaining traction among Olympic athletes, who so far have avoided saying or doing anything to protest the measures.

Organizers say they aren’t discouraged, though, and believe some athletes still may speak out before the games are over.

“We think athlete voices are still powerful in this debate,” said Andre Banks, executive director of AllOut, one of the groups protesting the laws. “But at the end of the day it’s up to the athlete to find the moment to make that expression.”

Midway through the Olympics, no athletes have found that moment, and the issue of gay rights has largely faded into the background at the games. But Banks held out hope that one or more athletes would make a public stand while in Sochi.

“We expect as games go on there may be other expressions,” Banks said in a phone interview from New York. “It’s good enough for me right now, though, that people are speaking up surrounding the games.”

AllOut and fellow group Athlete Ally had wanted Olympians to display the logo P6 to draw attention to Principle Six of the Olympic Charter that says discrimination in any form is not compatible with the Olympic movement. They had also hoped that athletes would speak out against Russian laws banning gay “propaganda” from reaching minors.

Protesters in several cities around the world targeted major Olympic sponsors in the days before the Winter Games started, urging them to speak out against the laws. That prompted several U.S. sponsors to issue statements saying they are against intolerance or discrimination, though none specifically mentioned the Russian laws.

Hudson Taylor, the founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, said he was not discouraged by the near total silence from athletes on the subject.

“I know for a fact that there are athletes currently competing who will not let these games come and go without making a statement,” Taylor, a former college wrestler, said in an email. “I for one will be watching the rest of the games with great anticipation and excitement.”

One openly gay athlete already passed up the chance to make a statement on the medal stand. Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, who married partner Isabel Stolz last year, did not bring up the anti-gay laws after winning the silver medal Tuesday in ski jumping.

Iraschko-Stolz said before winning the medal that protests against Russia’s law weren’t worth it because “no one cares.”

“I know Russia will go and make the right steps in the future and we should give them time,” she said.

Banks said his organization is doing other things to call attention to gay issues during the Olympics, including calling for the International Olympic Committee to ban countries from bidding for the games unless they show they don’t discriminate against gays.

Still, he said, he would like to see a winning athlete say something before the games end. He specifically mentioned Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, who is gay and has spoken out previously against anti-gay laws, as someone he would like to see win a medal.

Brockhoff is competing in the snowboard cross on Sunday, though she is not considered a medal contender.

“Having someone make a statement on the medal podium would be very exciting,” he said. “We’ve been rooting for her on the sidelines.”

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