No talk of gay rights, please, we're Olympians

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 8, 2014 at 9:49 am •  Published: February 8, 2014
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BEHIND THE SCENES: Some athletes say they are talking, but among themselves.

"We've been discussing this a lot, and it really just brings us athletes closer together. We all agree that there should be no discrimination," said U.S. cross-country skier Kikkan Randall.

But esteemed figure skating coach Frank Carroll said: "I haven't heard one single word about it. Not one. I don't see any flags or banners."

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KEEP QUIET: Some countries say they just don't want their athletes involved. Canada is one of those.

"We don't participate in any political debates and any controversy and anything else but sport," said Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut.

Canadian Olympians get "a lot of training" on how to answer reporters and are made "aware of any trigger points," said Mike Slipchuk, who heads Canada's figure skating team.

"They're here to answer questions about their performance and what they're doing here," he said.

But on gay rights, "wars" and "everything," he said: "We're not here to be a spokesperson for those things."

Canadian skater Kevin Reynolds certainly got the message.

"I'm focused on doing my job and, for the time being, doing what I need to do," he said somewhat robotically when asked for his opinion.

With a curt "thanks," a Canadian press handler tried to cut off a follow-up question before allowing Reynolds to reply.

"I think the athletes will be a little bit more free to talk about that after they have done competing," the skater said.

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AFRAID OF TROUBLE: IOC rules governing what athletes can and cannot say aren't as clear as they could be. Laid out in the Olympic Charter, they say all demonstrations and propaganda are banned at Olympic sites, venues and "other areas."

The charter says violators can be expelled, but that has "seldom if ever" happened, the IOC says. U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were sent home for their 'black power' salute at the 1968 Mexico City Games, when they thrust their black-gloved fists skyward on the medal podium.

In Sochi, the IOC and Russian organizers also sent conflicting signals. IOC President Thomas Bach said Olympians are "absolutely free" to speak on gay rights in press conferences. Sochi organizers contradicted Bach but then backpedalled.

The result: confusion.

"At first we were like kind of afraid to speak about it, like you couldn't even say the word 'gay' at all," said U.S. speedskater Jilleanne Rookard.

Taylor, executive director of Athlete Ally, argues that the IOC's ban doesn't extend to social media. He expects athletes in Sochi will be "tweeting or sharing pictures about these issues, too."

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MEDIA STORM: Some athletes worry that taking a strong stand will draw swarms of reporters, which could break their focus.

"I just don't want to stir the waters and don't want to comment on any side of it. Then that's something that can turn into a distraction if you get hounded by the media," said cross-country skier Jessica Diggins.

"So I'm keeping myself out of that."

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AP Sports Writers Beth Harris and Jon Krawczynski in Sochi and Dennis Passa and Howard Fendrich in Krasnaya Polyana contributed to this report.



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