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Some Olympic Athletes Just Say No -- To Protests

Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, who competed in Vancouver's XXI Olympic Winter Games in 2010, is openly gay but says she won't "make any fuss."
Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, who competed in Vancouver's XXI Olympic Winter Games in 2010, is openly gay but says she won't "make any fuss."
In the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, much attention has been paid to the athletes, mainly Western, who intend to protest Russia's antigay laws.

There's the Australian bobsled team, whose sled bears the logo of the Principle 6, a rights campaign based on the article of the Olympic Charter banning discrimination. And U.S. figure skater Jeremy Abbot, who has publicly condemned the Russian laws as going "strongly" against his personal beliefs.

At the same time, many Olympic athletes -- even those who are outspoken at home -- say they will keep their protests to a minimum or keep silent on the issue altogether.

One is Anastasia Bucsis, a Canadian speed skater who is one of the few openly gay athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics. Bucsis has been quoted by Canadian media as criticizing the Russian laws, which effectively prohibit public displays of affection among same-sex couples and advocacy of LGBT rights. But she says she has no plans to make additional gestures or statements in Sochi.

"I'm not going to make any fuss," she said. "I'm here to compete as a speed skater and represent my country the best way I know how."

Other athletes have echoed the sentiment, including Dutch short-track speed skater Sanne van Kerkhof, who is gay, and U.S. Alpine skier Ted Ligety, who is straight but an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights.

Even Belle Brockhoff, a gay Australian snowboarder who suggested she might use Sochi to publicly criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, has since toned down her message. She now says she will limit her gestures to holding up six fingers to the camera in a reference to Principle 6.

The gesture is meant to give athletes an alternative to making an openly pro-gay gesture, which might be interpreted as violating the Russian law.

It is not clear, however, what reaction a six-fingered salute would generate from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has warned athletes against activism during events.

Thomas Bach, the IOC president, has said athletes are free to make political statements and gestures during Sochi press conferences but not during sporting events or medal ceremonies.

Athletes can be stripped of their medals and thrown out of Olympic competition for violating the rules.

Some former Olympic athletes have defended the right of competitors to steer clear of political messages.

U.S. figure skater Johnny Weir, a three-time U.S. champion who will serve as a television commentator on the Sochi Olympics, angered many in the U.S. LGBT community when he said that "the Olympics are not the place to make a political statement" about the Russian laws.
U.S. figure skater Johnny Weir competing in Moscow in 2012
U.S. figure skater Johnny Weir competing in Moscow in 2012

Weir, who is both openly gay and a self-professed Russophile, also called on athletes "to respect the culture of the country you're visiting."

Mark Tewksbury, a Canadian swimmer who won a gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, says it is unfair to put athletes, who are under intense pressure to perform, in the position of political advocates.

Tewksbury, who is gay, says it is the responsibility of the IOC and not the athletes to protest the Russian laws. Tewksbury has expressed frustration with the IOC for asking gay and lesbian athletes "to come to a country that...has explicitly named you as being hated."

Other athletes, meanwhile, appear to be contemplating their own subtle forms of protest.

Euromaidan activists in Ukraine have urged their Olympic athletes to take a stance against Russian intervention during their time in Sochi.

And Aleksei Sobolyov, a Russian snowboarder, garnered attention on the eve of the February 7 opening ceremonies when he ran a Sochi slope with the bottom of his board painted with a woman in a ski mask bearing a strong resemblance to members of the Pussy Riot protest group.

Asked if he supported Pussy Riot, Sobolyov told AP that he had no comment.
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