By Allan Muir
It wasn't long after Russia announced that the country's law criminalizing "propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations" would be enforced during the 2014 Sochi Olympics that the clock started ticking on how long it would take the first athlete to come out against it.
American runner Nick Symmonds was first across the line, dedicating the silver medal he won at the track and field World Championship in Moscow to his LGBT friends. “As much as I can speak out about it, I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them,” Symmonds told Russia’s R-Sport. “Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there’s anything I can do to champion the cause and further it, I will, shy of getting arrested.”
Good for him. Of course, Symmonds won't be a Sochi in February. Hockey players will. And as they start to gather at the Olympic orientation camps that start up next week, you can bet they'll be asked where they stand on the issue...and how far they're willing to go to make their point.
Yesterday, presumptive Team Sweden goaltender Henrik Lundqvist declined to comment on the controversial anti-gay laws, stating that “when it comes to the Olympics, I think you should focus on the the sport.”
Nothing wrong with Hank taking that position. After all, not everyone is cut out to be a vocal crusader for human rights (and, to his credit, he has come out in favor of the You Can Play Project).
But a couple of his likely teammates have shown they're willing to rock the Russians' boat.
"It's terrible, just awful," Henrik Zetterberg told Aftonbladet when asked about the discriminatory laws. "I think that everyone should be able to be themselves. It's unbelievable that it can be this way, especially in a big country like Russia."
"That's completely wrong," added Victor Hedman. "We're all human. No one should have a say in what way you're sexually oriented."
"The Olympics are there for a reason," he said. "Everyone should be able to participate and be themselves. Everyone should stand up for the rights of homosexuals."
Now here's where it gets really interesting. Zetterberg suggested he'd support the SOK (Swedish Olympic Committee) if they decided to "take a stand" in response to the legislation.
It's a conversation worth having. But standing up and sitting out are two very different responses, and there's almost no chance that any Olympic committees will even consider pulling their athletes. In fact, they'll probably be told to keep their mouths shut, as USOC CEO Scott Blackmun is advising American athletes.
Of course, that advice applies to athletes when they're in Russia. Until then, it's going to be very interesting to hear what the players have to say...or if they say anything at all.
That's especially true in Russia, where Putin's heroes will stage their own Olympic orientation camp in Sochi starting next Friday.
Think any of them are willing to jeopardize their chance of making the team?
It's probably worth noting here that the leader of the last host country to have absolutist anti-gay laws suspended them for the duration of the Games.