February 9

In Sochi, athletes mum on gay rights

Not a squeak of protest is heard – yet – from 2,870 Olympians as they place their focus on competing.

By John Leicester
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Ashley Wagner of the United States skates at the figure stating practice rink Wednesday ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In the United States, Wagner spoke eloquently against the Russian law. In Sochi, she still is answering questions on it but isn't making it a priority.

The Associated Press

BEHIND THE SCENES: Some athletes say they are talking, but among themselves.

“We’ve been discussing this a lot, and it really just brings us athletes closer together. We all agree that there should be no discrimination,” said U.S. cross-country skier Kikkan Randall.

But esteemed figure skating coach Frank Carroll said: “I haven’t heard one single word about it. Not one. I don’t see any flags or banners.”

KEEP QUIET: Some countries say they just don’t want their athletes involved. Canada is one of those.

“We don’t participate in any political debates and any controversy and anything else but sport,” said Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut.

Canadian Olympians get “a lot of training” on how to answer reporters and are made “aware of any trigger points,” said Mike Slipchuk, who heads Canada’s figure skating team.

“They’re here to answer questions about their performance and what they’re doing here,” he said.

But on gay rights, “wars” and “everything,” he said: “We’re not here to be a spokesperson for those things.”

Canadian skater Kevin Reynolds certainly got the message.

“I’m focused on doing my job and, for the time being, doing what I need to do,” he said somewhat robotically when asked for his opinion.

With a curt “thanks,” a Canadian press handler tried to cut off a follow-up question before allowing Reynolds to reply.

“I think the athletes will be a little bit more free to talk about that after they have done competing,” the skater said.

AFRAID OF TROUBLE: IOC rules governing what athletes can and cannot say aren’t as clear as they could be. Laid out in the Olympic Charter, they say all demonstrations and propaganda are banned at Olympic sites, venues and “other areas.”

The charter says violators can be expelled, but that has “seldom if ever” happened, the IOC says.

In Sochi, the IOC and Russian organizers also sent conflicting signals. IOC President Thomas Bach said Olympians are “absolutely free” to speak on gay rights in press conferences. Sochi organizers contradicted Bach but then backpedaled.

The result: confusion.

“At first we were like kind of afraid to speak about it, like you couldn’t even say the word ‘gay’ at all,” said U.S. speedskater Jilleanne Rookard.

MEDIA STORM: Some athletes worry that taking a strong stand will draw swarms of reporters, which could break their focus.

“I just don’t want to stir the waters. ... that’s something that can turn into a distraction if you get hounded by the media,” said cross-country skier Jessica Diggins.

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