Canada’s Olympic athletes are lining up firmly on the side of those opposed to Russia’s new anti-gay law ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. A group of Canadian Olympians marched in Ottawa’s Pride Parade Sunday, while members of the men’s hockey team spoke out against the legislation as they gathered for an orientation camp.
The law, adopted earlier this summer by the Russian parliament, outlaws gay “propaganda,” and Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned protests in Sochi just before and during the Games, a move widely seen as an attempt to squelch any dissent against the legislation.
Canada’s Olympic team has spent the past several months reaching out to the gay community, after a decision in February that Pride events would be part of the athletes’ roster of public appearances in the lead-up to the Games. On Sunday, they marched in Capital Pride for the first time.
“What an incredibly powerful day today has been. I am so proud to be marching on behalf of my fellow Olympians,” Katie Weatherston, who won a gold medal in 2006 as part of the women’s hockey team in Turin, said in a statement after the Pride event. “Sport has the power to unite us all, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.”
The president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, meanwhile, said Canadians must promote acceptance beyond the country’s borders.
“While today’s march will conclude at City Hall, it is important that we keep defending the idea that acceptance, tolerance and friendship are not just a Canadian reality, but values to be shared and promoted all around the world,” Marcel Aubut said.
Shortly afterward, hockey’s brightest star came out against Russia’s law at the start of the orientation in Calgary.
“It’s not something we’ve discussed a whole lot, but my view has always been that way – that everyone has an equal right to play and we [the NHL Players’ Association] have been supportive of that,” Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins forward who scored the country’s gold medal-winning goal in Vancouver in 2010, said during a press conference at Hockey Canada headquarters. “Those are laws that we don’t necessarily agree with, and I don’t agree with personally.”
Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby was also sympathetic to the rights of gay athletes and invoked other human-rights violations as well, noting: “It’s hard to go into a country that supports something like that. I think as athletes we have to find a way to use it to our advantage – gay rights especially but human rights, to really move it forward.”
What exact actions Canadian athletes can or will take to protest against the law while in Russia are unclear. Besides Mr. Putin’s edict, the International Olympic Committee also prohibits the making of political statements at its events.
Some hoped that, by pressuring Russia ahead of the games, Olympians could force a change to the laws by the time the competition rolls around.
“I was part of [Right to] Play campaign and I know a lot of guys were that are probably going to be on Olympic rosters, so it’s a little uneasy right now with what’s going on over there,” Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said as he arrived in Calgary, referring to the anti-homophobia campaign led by former Toronto Maple Leaf GM Brian Burke. “But again, there’s a lot of time [before the Olympics begin] and things can change.”