Skip to main content

Russia, scrap your anti-gay laws

By Nick Symmonds
January 31, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
The sun rises over Sochi's Olympic Park on January 10, 2014. The 2014 Winter Olympics will run February 7 - 23 in Sochi, Russia. Six thousand athletes from 85 countries are scheduled to attend the 22nd Winter Olympics. Here's a look at the estimated $50 billion transformation of Sochi for the Games. The sun rises over Sochi's Olympic Park on January 10, 2014. The 2014 Winter Olympics will run February 7 - 23 in Sochi, Russia. Six thousand athletes from 85 countries are scheduled to attend the 22nd Winter Olympics. Here's a look at the estimated $50 billion transformation of Sochi for the Games.
HIDE CAPTION
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
Sochi transformed
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
>
>>
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

Editor's note: Nick Symmonds is a two-time Olympic middle-distance runner. After winning the Silver Medal in the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, he dedicated his win to his gay and lesbian friends and openly criticized Russia's anti-gay laws.

(CNN) -- 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.

Nick Symmonds
Nick Symmonds

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.

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.

EXCLUSIVE: Medvedev on gay rights
Putin speaks on welcoming gays in Sochi
Russian vigilantes targeting gay men

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.

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.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nick Symmonds.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT