Shouts and silence: IOC needs to use both against Russia's anti-gay law

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Sprinters Tommie Smith (L) and John Carlos in their black-gloved protest at the 1968 Olympics against U.S. racism. (AFP / Getty)

Sprinters Tommie Smith (L) and John Carlos in their black-gloved protest at the 1968 Olympics against U.S. racism. (AFP / AFP/Getty Images / October 16, 1968)

“We always say to our athletes, 'We do not want any demonstrations in one or the other direction,’” Heiberg said.   `Please, you are there to compete and behave. Please don't go out on the Net or in the streets.'"

When I asked Heiberg in an email if an athlete should be punished or reprimanded for individually exercising freedom of speech by criticizing this law in an interview at the Olympics or choosing to wear a symbol of LGBT support, he referred me to IOC spokesman Mark Adams.

``I think we'd treat each comment individually and take a sensible view depending on what was said,” Adams replied.  “No point in making a blanket statement about hypothetical individual comments.”

One can only hope athletes, LGBT or not, use the chance to show their disgust. As Carlos said to Dave Zirin of Grantland when asked about a Sochi boycott:

"The bottom line is, if you stay home, your message stays home with you. If you stand for justice and equality, you have an obligation to find the biggest possible megaphone to let your feelings be known. Don't let your message be buried and don't bury yourself."

In answer to my email, Denis Oswald of Switzerland noted “the Olympic Charter prohibits all kind of public political statements or demonstrations (like wearing a symbol) at the Olympic Games, but athletes should not lose the right to express their opinion in interviews for example.’’

One can also hope that the IOC will be smart and do or say nothing about reasoned protest, even if an athlete unfurls a rainbow flag at the Opening Ceremony or a medal ceremony.

Silent acceptance of injustice is wrong.  But silent acceptance from the IOC of the right to free expression and to be who one is would speak volumes.

The IOC promulgates values that suggest moral authority.  It needs the spine to stand behind them.

 

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