U.S. Sprinter Nick Symmonds Becomes First Foreign Athlete To Criticize Russia’s Anti-Gay Law On Russian Soil

  • Rick Chandler

Nick Symmonds won the silver medal in the 800 meters at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow earlier today, and then before he had caught his breath, sprinted straight into controversy.

On Russia’s new anti-gay law, Symmonds told ABC News: “I disagree with their laws and I disagree with their views.”

And thus he became the first foreign athlete to publicly criticize the new law on Russian soil. Presumably he didn’t make the comment within earshot of any children, which I suppose is why he wasn’t immediately arrested and dropped into Bain’s prison pit of despair. The new law, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June, bans “propaganda” of “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors.

The fear among many athletes is that it will be used to harass and prosecute gay athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. U.S. figure skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is of Russian descent, said that he would be “willing to go to jail” to test the law, should he make the U.S. team.

Symmonds had received criticism from the gay community for earlier saying that he wouldn’t criticize the law at the World Athletic Championships, but it didn’t take long for him to go back on that.

“I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them,” he told the Russian sports website R-Sport, according to RIA Novosti.

The IOC had been indicating that it had been assured by Russian authorities that no gay athletes would be arrested at Sochi. But on Monday the Russian Sports Minister confirmed that, on the contrary, no one would be exempt from the law.

Meanwhile, in an interview with World Football Insider, the head of the Russian World Cup Committee (it will be played in Russia in 2018) compared homosexuality to Nazism.

At some point this pot is going to boil over.

My guess is that it’s going to happen with Weir. What happens when an immovable draconian law meets an irresistible figure skating object? From CBS:

“If it takes me getting arrested for people to pay attention, and for people to lobby against this law, then I’m willing to take it. Like anyone, I’m scared to be arrested. But I’m also not afraid of being arrested.”

This most likely will become a large game of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, with neither side willing to risk a huge confrontation. At first. But what happens when a gay athlete wants to wear a rainbow pin? Or, what if Weir wins a medal and wants to kiss his boyfriend as the cameras are rolling?

And remember, there are plenty of folks here in the U.S., and in other nations, who think that the new Russian law is just fine as written. In fact, ask some, could we get something like that enacted here?

Look, we need to talk about this stuff, and it often seems that the Olympics are the best conversation-starters. A politics-free Olympics? Hopefully, that never happens.