On Jan. 10 I attended a Boston Globe presentation by Olympic athletes and officials. I asked about the notion of the Olympics presenting an opportunity to support human rights in host countries and the range of responses surprised me.
Lisa Baird, Chief Marketing Officer for the US Olympic Committee clearly rattled by the human rights issues looming at Sochi, explained that we will keep our athletes safe and the Olympics is about sports, nothing else. This “we’ll protect our own and be damned all the rest” attitude was pretty disturbing. But when she went on to explain that the Olympics is about sports only, I thought, gee, did the Chief Marketing Officer for the US Olympic team forget to read their web site?
Below, lifted directly from the US Team web site is a beautiful description of what the term Olympism means:
Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining the qualities of body, will and mind in a balanced whole. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced in accordance with Olympism and its values.
Fortunately, there to save the reputation of the US Team was Angela Ruggiero, 4 time Olympian (and winner of 4 medals) and member of the United States Olympic Committee board of directors. Although Angela didn’t get to respond to my question, the tepid response from Baird caused a gay rights activist to ask a follow-up question. Baird couldn’t handle it and again offered some pabulum that was horrifying in it’s narrow, we’re taking care of ourselves perspective. Ruggiero stepped up to the plate and appeared genuinely concerned. “This is a sensitive topic for a lot of people and I feel your pain. As an IOC member myself this is an important issue and the Olympic movement knows that. I just want to assure you that the dialogue has begun at the highest level. Maybe this issue wasn’t on the table before and I think one thing the Sochi Games has done is elevate this issue to a higher level so while Principle 6 in the Charter explicitly doesn’t have sexual orientation I would like to see that included. The IOC has assured all the athletes and spectators, anyone going to the Games, they will be protected during the games time and the Para Olympics games time. The thing I want to say is, there are people, myself included that are pushing for this internally and are trying to stand up for the rights of the athletes. While this issue has finally come to light, I want you to know people are taking this seriously and hoping to do something so that future editions of the games this won’t come up.”
Clearly she is wrestling with the tension between the role of the Olympics as a sporting event and its goals for “building a peaceful and better world.” Angela read the web site and hopefully the rest of the leadership of the US Olympic Committee is on her team not Baird’s.