NBA star John Amaechi: Sochi athletes should break their ‘silence’ and condemn anti-gay laws in Russia

Aaron Day February 5, 2014
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Retired basketball star John Amaechi has criticised those who do not speak up about anti-gay laws in Russia, saying that “silence in the face of attendance in Sochi is complicity.”

Speaking in an interview with The Guardian, the campaigner and sports broadcaster said that athletes who refuse to speak up against anti-gay laws “become nothing more than another Sochi mascot that people can have their photograph taken with as a memento of the abdication of responsibility.”

He added: “I don’t think it’s a predicament. I do understand that there is risk. But principles are usually associated with risk.”

President Vladimir Putin signed the controversial 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 Amaechi, who came out as gay three years after retiring in 2007, also urged athletes to use social networks or the media to make clear their positions on the legislation.

He said: “The more I look around these days, the more it seems that athletes and people who watch sport should be one-dimensional. That as long as they run fast or push the stone well, then that’s all that should be demanded of them.

“I’m so tired of the Olympics being able to hide behind this ‘we are not political’ banner at the same time as being intensely political, within their internal politics or the way they manoeuvre within politics.

“All you have to do is look at the event where they announce who will get the Games. Look in the audience and it is prime ministers, premiers and royalty. I’m sorry, you are implicitly political in nature.”

The International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announced last month that “special zones” would be set up at the Olympic Games for ”people who want to express their opinion or want to demonstrate for or against something.”

Mr Amaechi added that he had spoken to several NOC’s who have explicit clauses in their contracts preventing them from addressing political topics.

He said: “If you do, you risk losing your money. I have spoken to four different athletes. It’s in the contract and it’s an absolute nonsense.

“If you ask them how many Twitter followers they need in order to get a better contract with Adidas, they’ll tell you. They understand perfectly well how to sell a kid shoes, to make sure they get an endorsement from Range Rover.

“I’m not asking people to spend a huge amount of time on this. All it takes is them saying that they are aware of what is going on in Russia and that they go there in support of improved human rights in Russia. There’s 140 characters for you.”

He also urged IOC sponsors to speak up against anti-gay laws in Russia.

“How can you not realise that if you go to this place where it is happening and say nothing, you are part of that. You are part of the fluffy cover story. It’s unacceptable.”

US Olympic Committee sponsor AT&T was today the first to to condemn Russia’s legislation, saying “we hope that others involved with the Olympic Games will do the same.”

On Wednesday, US Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner also praised the “colourful venue” of the Sochi Winter Games, suggesting that it reminds her of the rainbow-coloured pride flag.

She added that she would not hold her silence about the Russian law. “It doesn’t really matter where I am, it’s still my opinion,” she said.

More: Americas, anti-gay laws, David Cameron, Europe, G20, Moscow, putin, Russia, Russia, sochi olympics, Sochi Winter Olympics, Sochi Winter Olympics 2014, St Petersburg, Stephen Fry, US, Vladimir Putin, Winter Olympics, Winter Olympics 2014

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