US Olympic Committee: Russia anti-gay laws are are wrong but must still be respected

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The US Olympic Committee (USOC) says that Russia’s controversial anti-gay laws are “inconsistent with fundamental Olympic principles” but has also urged athletes to “respect the laws of the host country”.

The statements were tweeted by USOC Public Affairs Officer Patrick Sandhurst on Friday.

He was clarifying an earlier statement made by the committee’s CEO, Scott Blackmun, who earlier this week said that USOC has a “strong desire that our athletes comply with the laws of every nation that we visit”.

President Vladimir Putin signed the law in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.

Mr Blackmun’s statement has since sparked controversy over what stance USOC will taking on Russia’s anti-gay legislation.

On Friday however, Mr Sandusky clarified the committee’s position:

Following these clarifications by Mr Sandusky, Buzzfeed also obtained a letter from Mr Blackmun dated August 12, which was addressed to the “US Olympic and Paralympic Family.”

The letter said that although USOC supports the LGBT community, its “mission is to enable American athletes to win medals”:

There have been conflicting media reports regarding the applicability of the laws during the Games, and we continue to seek assurances that athletes, delegation members, the media and fans will be safe while attending the Games next year. Whether or not we receive those assurances, however, I want you to know how we feel about the law itself.

We strongly support equal rights for all and believe that laws restricting the right to act and speak in support of the LGBT community are inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. We have shared our views with the IOC. At the same time, however, we cannot forget that we are first and foremost a sports organization. Our mission is to help enable American athletes to win medals at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Our overriding obligation is to deliver a well-prepared team and to support our athletes, all of them. That is where we will direct our energies.

An IOC member earlier this week said that Russia has “accepted the words of the Olympic Charter and the host city contract, so either they respect it or we have to say goodbye to them.”

The statement came in response to a confusion of statements from both the IOC and the Russian Interior Ministry however.

On Friday last week, IOC president Jacques Rogge reaffirmed the organisation’s commitment to a Winter Olympics free of all discrimination following calls from such names as Stephen Fry and Tory MP Mike Freer to either relocate or outright boycott the games altogether.

Another IOC member, however, has also said that “Russian law has to be respected” and that he felt “we’re not going to be disturbed by political problems.”

Politicians including UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama have expressed concern over the treatment of gay people in Russia and have promised to take up the issue with the Russian Government. However, both leaders have also stated they do not consider a boycott of the Games as the right course of action.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has said that the legislation shall not interfere with the smooth running of the Games, however Russian lawmakers have confirmed that the laws will not be suspended while the Games take place.