Three months to the Sochi Olympics, and Coke is under pressure

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Coke, as the ad says, is the pause that refreshes. In the eyes of gay rights activists though, Coke needs to take a pause themselves and think seriously about the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, now just three months away. Andre Banks is executive director of the gay rights organization, All Out. He joins us from New York. So the Russian government's got this antigay propaganda law, Andre. They've been also cracking down on gay rights marches in several Russian cities. You've organized an online petition to address this, to put pressure on Olympic sponsors, especially Coke. Tell us what this petition asks of the sponsors. Andre Banks: Absolutely. Well, it asks them to speak out, so it specifically asks for Coke to call on the Russian government to remove the antigay propaganda laws before the Olympics in Sochi, to support LGBT organizations in Russia who are pushing back against this crackdown, and to encourage the IOC to change the rules to make sure that we don't end up in this position again, that we don't end up with an Olympics in a country that treats gay and lesbian athletes badly. Werman: Right, is there an ultimatum if you don't get the satisfaction that you want from this petition? Banks: Well, I think what we've heard from those, you know, now more than 120,000 people have signed this in just a couple of days, I think a lot of people are looking at Coke and asking the question will they speak up and will they take a stronger stance. We continue to take this question to them for the next few months. Werman: I mean Coke did come out with a statement in August that said as one of the world's most inclusive brands we value and celebrate diversity; we do not condone intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world. What more do you want from them? Banks: What we'd love Coke to do is just live up to their values. You know, if you're a Coke employee in the US, the company does have great values for lesbians and gays. What we're saying is that shouldn't stop when you cross the Atlantic and go to Russia, go to Sochi. People in Russia want the same things that people in the US want and Coke should do everything in their power to make sure that the Olympics stays a place where athletes, and sport and fairness is the goal, and not discrimination. Werman: Andre, how do you respond to the notion that sports and the Olympics especially should not be complicated by politics, but should focus on the athletics? Banks: I absolutely agree, but the IOC, the International Olympic Committee makes it very difficult to focus on the athletics when you put the Olympics in a country that says that you can't say that you're gay without facing fines or possibly being taken to jail. It's hard to keep the politics off of the rink when you're being put in that situation and I think that's the choice of the International Olympics Committee and the sponsors who have allowed the Olympics to go forward in Sochi. Werman: With three months to go before Sochi, why not just put all the chips on the table and call for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics or for moving the games somewhere else? Banks: You know, first of all, we've been working closely with our human rights offenders in Russia and they say they don't want a boycott. They want the world to come to Russia for these games and to use it as an opportunity to speak out and not to walk out. I think they want to see these powerful voices' governments in sport--athletes, sponsors--to take a strong stand against these antigay laws and show the Russian government that, you know, there are many voices on the other side who want to see a change. You know, there's a real precedent for this. Before the Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese government changed a number of laws to come into support for this international community and sponsors. In London in 2012, the IOC forced the Saudi Arabian government to include women in their Olympic delegation, so you know, there is a precedent for these kind of changes and I think we're hoping to see people really step up and make it happen before February. Werman: Have you heard from Coke at all about your online petition? Banks: We have not heard from them directly about the online petition. We do know that they're in active conversations about this and I believe they're taking it quite seriously. We're hoping that, you know, even as soon as this week that we'll get to hear back from them and hear a strong response. Werman: Well, the Olympics get underway in February. Are you going, Andre, and what do you want your role to be if you do go? Banks: You know, I think my role is to help amplify the voice of human rights offenders in the country and you know, the hundreds of thousands of people that have joined All Out's campaign. I would love to go to Sochi. It's actually become quite a challenge for people to get Visas, especially if you are an outspoken gay rights activist, not surprisingly. Werman: Andre Banks with the gay rights campaigners, All Out, in New York. Andre, good to speak with you. Banks: Thank you so much.