No Controversy Over LGBT Athletes at World Championships in Russia

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Marco Werman: Edward Snowden's in Russia, having gained temporary asylum there. And that Russian part of the saga has infuriated the U.S. government. But a lot of people are more angry about another Russian initiative, a new law that outlaws so-called gay propaganda. Some are even calling for a boycott of Russia's winter Olympics in Sochi next year.
No talk of boycott though at the track and field world championships going on right now in Russia. They're taking place in Moscow, president Vladimir Putin's home turf. Nicole Nazzaro is covering the world championships for Runners World this week. She's been spending her days at the stadium where we caught up with her. And Nicole, how much is the anti-gay propaganda law overshadowing the track and field championships?

Nicole Nazzaro: You know Marco, interestingly, it's not overshadowing the World Track and Field Championships at all. And I think one of the reasons is that we know we're here to cover an international sporting event, and we understand that the athletes who are here have been preparing, some of them for 20 years or more. It's hard to expect them to have a viewpoint that they're willing to share publicly. At the same time, the journalists have given these athletes an opportunity to talk about it if they wanted to.

Werman: It's not unheard of though that politics gets drawn into sports. Why isn't this being discussed do you think? I mean, isn't it an important story there?

Nazzaro: It's not that it's not as important story in Russia but at the World Track and Field Championships, remember, we're around the international sports community, and I think some of the athletes feel a little bit blindsided when they start feeling that they have to talk about it when they're in the middle of a world championship. The American 800 meter runner, Nick Simmons, is actually a great example of one way that athletes can be very involved in talking about what their beliefs are and being able to, you know, influence positively. In that, you know, he's been blogging for Runners World and has marvelous writing on his personal beliefs about gay and lesbian rights. But he also says, when I'm in the host country I'll respect them, I will shake their hand, and then I will win the race. And then help them to see that in a free society people can live well. And I think the best thing that you can do in a situation like this, when you're at the World Championships, is to respect the athletes and respect their need to really focus on their competition.

Werman: And that runner who's blogging that you referred to who's at the games there in Moscow, is he openly gay?

Nazzaro: No, I don't believe so. I don't know that any one athlete has come out as being gay. But Nick Simmons most certainly has been talking about gay and lesbian issues, and you know, human rights issues. He is very much a proponent of equality, but he chooses to talk about it when he's at home and to focus on the competition when he's at the competition.

Werman: It just seems so add that, you know, a big issue like this gay propaganda law would not be discussed. it just seems odd in this day and age.

Nazzaro: It's just, I think, understood that you know, it's a part of the political scene around this country that we happen to be in right now, it's not a part what's happening on the field of play. I'm going to go back, thinking about 2008 when U.S. women gymnasts, gymnastics team, who were basically teenagers, were being asked about Chinese human rights issues. And I'm just wondering, does that seem fair to them? Think about it, if they started gymnastics when they were three or four years old and they suddenly get a chance to compete when they're 17 in the Olympics, and suddenly it's in a country that has issues with the United States. Is it fair to them?

Werman: So the focus remains firmly on sports even though there's lots of controversial stuff in the air. What do you think's the takeaway from all this?

Nazzaro: I think one of the takeaways actually is that, and if I can give you just a little bit of background, I actually studied in the Soviet Union, and when it was the Soviet Union 22 years ago. This is my sixth trip to Russia. This country has changed so much in the last generation. They still have a ways to go, but I think that the takeaway is that when we come to a country and we act like guests and then win, and present ourselves well, and show that a free society, where there are rights for all, I think that is a great way to educate other governments on what's possible in a free society. And I hope that other journalists from around the world also continue to push this story because this is a story that we shouldn't just pay attention to during the time of a sporting event, we should always pay attention to these issues.

Werman: Nicole Nazzaro covering the Track and Field World Championships going on right now in Moscow for Runners World. Thanks for your point of view Nicole. Appreciate it.

Nazzaro: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me.