Russia, scrap your anti-gay laws

Story highlights

  • Nick Symmonds: Olympians could raise issue of Russia's anti-gay laws
  • Symmonds: International Olympic Committee is against all discrimination
  • He says if Russia crack down on gays, the IOC must not turn a blind eye
  • Symmonds: Olympic Games is about setting aside differences, not persecution

I can vividly recall watching my first Olympic Games. Lying on the floor of the Boise, Idaho, home I grew up in, I tuned in each evening to the 1992 Barcelona Games.

I remember the moment when the athletes entered the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies. As I saw Team USA walk in, everyone dressed in stunning outfits, proudly waving our flag, I felt a sense of national pride that I had never known before. I was 9 at the time and completely enchanted by the magic of the Olympic Games.

In a world full of politics and war, here was a moment where everyone could set aside their differences and instead battle on the playing field for the love of competition and national pride.

In an ideal world this is what the Olympic Games should always be about. However, we do not live in an ideal world. Rather, we live in an imperfect one where something as simple and beautiful as loving someone can get you thrown to the streets or put in jail or even murdered.

Nick Symmonds

For this reason, as much as I am excited to see the incredible athletic contests at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, I am also paying close attention to the political theater that will play out there. People from around the world will be watching. We should use this opportunity to insist that Russia change its discriminatory laws against gay people.

In the summer of 2013, I had the distinct pleasure of representing the U.S. at the World Championships for Track and Field in Moscow. While there, I finished second in the 800 meters, and subsequently dedicated my medal to the gay community.

This received much international media attention due to the fact that I was one of the first athletes to openly criticize Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws on Russian soil. Though I was one of the first, I will certainly not be the last.

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As the Winter Olympics unfold, I am confident that we will see many Olympians from around the world protest these antiquated and discriminatory laws. The Russian government will be faced with two choices: Ignore those that break the law and face ridicule from its own people, or enforce its laws by punishing the lawbreakers and challenge the International Olympic Committee to enforce its own charter.

Principle 6 of the IOC charter states that any form of discrimination, including sexual orientation, is incompatible with the Olympics. When the IOC awarded Russia the 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia had not yet passed their discriminatory laws. With the laws now firmly in place, the IOC has a responsibility to the international community to make sure that its charter is upheld or risk putting the Olympic movement's credibility at stake.

As an athlete, I understand how hard the Olympic athletes have trained for the last four years. They deserve the chance to compete against the world's best at the highest level. However, their right to compete must not come at the expense of basic human rights.

I encourage the athletes to remember why they are in Sochi and what their primary job is. But I am confident that many of these Olympians and their fans will also bring up the issue. We will probably see different forms of protest throughout the Olympic Games. And should Russia decide to enforce its discriminatory laws, the IOC must ultimately be held responsible.

I ask that you join me in keeping the IOC accountable and demanding that it upholds its own charter. Recently, two nonprofits, Athlete Ally and All Out, joined forces to create the Principle 6 campaign, which includes a petition calling for Russia to put an end to its discriminatory laws. The website contains information that can be shared via social media to remind people that sport does not and should not discriminate on the ground of race, religion, gender, politics, or sexual orientation.

As always, I am eagerly counting down the days to the beginning of the next Olympic Games. We are sure to witness some of the finest displays of athletic brilliance the world has ever seen. In both the triumphs and defeats, let us allow these Games to bring us together as citizens of the world. Let us show support and thanks to the host nation, while at the same time holding it to the standards and responsibility that comes with the honor of hosting such a world-class event.

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