The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has revised its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation, a move that has been interpreted as a reaction to Russian anti-gay laws which are casting a shadow over preparations for next year’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
The new policy, in the “commitment to integrity” section of the USOC Charter now reads “the USOC expects you to conduct yourself in an ethical and legal manner as a representative of the USOC.
“This requires you to respect the rights of all individuals to fair treatment and equal opportunity, free from discrimination or harassment of any type, including, without limitation discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin or otherwise.”
This follows legislation banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” being introduced into the Lower House of the Russian Parliament in June, which duly prompted a series of international protests, including some calls for a boycott of the Games.
However, when announcing the change at the USOC Assembly, chief executive Scott Blackmun insisted that the federation is not trying to influence Russian policy.
“The fact that we do not think it is our role to advocate for a change in the Russian law does not mean that we support the law, and we do not,” he said.
Blackmun also revealed that the USOC is seeking clarity from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on what will and will not be regarded as violations of the rule against using the Olympic stage to make political protests or demonstrations.
“I think everybody has concerns over the uncertainty about where the line will be drawn and how to protect the athletes,” he said.
“We strongly believe the athletes need to be free to be themselves.
“That doesn’t necessarily need to include dialogue about changing the laws but it clearly includes allowing people to live the lifestyle they live here when they’re there.”
He described how USOC has given the athletes freedom to express themselves “however they see fit” in the lead-up to the Games.
To illustrate this he pointed to last week’s comments from alpine skiing star Bode Miller, who said “I think it’s absolutely embarrassing that there’s countries and there’s people who are that intolerant and that ignorant.”
The measure was passed a week after the USOC President Larry Probst, who was appointed a new member of the IOC last month, said he would support a similar change to the Olympic charter.
Currently the Charter does not mention sexual orientation as a form of discrimination.
“We thought it would be good to take a look at our own code of conduct,” he said at the USOC Quarterly Board Meeting.
“It was the appropriate thing for us to do and it’s important to us to walk the talk.”
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org. Inside the Games is an online blog of the London Organizing Committee that staged the 2012 London Games. The blog continues to cover issues that are important to the Olympic Movement. This article is reprinted here with permission of the blog editors.