Last week, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) rewrote their code of conduct to include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy. The change came after more than a dozen members of Congress asked what the USOC planned to do to protect the American athletes competing in 2014’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Despite the changes USOC have instigated, they continue to receive criticism from advocate groups for their lack of action against the Russian anti-LGBT propaganda law. The issue for the USOC is that the latest terms added to the code of conduct become moot when factoring in another code of conduct stating athletes must obey all foreign laws.
In August, the USOC were condemned for denouncing the Russian propaganda law whilst simultaneously asking athletes to abide by it regardless. Now they face similar scrutiny for the contradictions in their code of conduct, which could prove problematic for out LGBT members of the USOC for the Winter Olympics.
Since the Russian anti-gay laws were passed in June, controversy has continued to rage, especially with the very publicised international Winter Olympics approaching. Athletes have been struggling with their desire to speak out against the anti-gay laws at the Winter Olympics in February and in what ways it will affect them if they do.
The broad interpretation of the word “promotion” in the Russian propaganda law has left many not know exactly what constitutes propaganda, which could be as simple as track athlete Nick Symmonds dedicating his second-place finish in Moscow to his gay friends at home or high-jumper Emma Green Tregaro painting her nails the color of the rainbow. A violation of the propaganda law by visitors could result in heavy fines and potentially 15 days in jail followed by immediate deportation.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said he, “believe[s]the USOC must take a more activist position against these heinous Russian laws” and that the USOC’s attempt to maintain a distance from the issue has instead “created a very compelling rationale for greater involvement.”
It appears that the USOC must tread carefully in an attempt to negotiate criticism and a way to show their support for the LGBT community. Although it is not their job or position to attempt to change Russia’s laws before the Olympics, expectations are high as to whether they will be able to be more active in opposing Russia’s prejudicial legislation.