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Retiring tennis player James Blake speaks out against Russia

Russian participants at US Open plead ignorance or decline comment about anti-gay law

American tennis player James Blake. Credit: buenorros.net

American tennis player James Blake, who announced at the beginning of the US Open that the tournament would be his last as a singles player, took the opportunity to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws following his first-round defeat Aug 28, The Washington Post reports.

“I think everyone at this point, when you look at numbers, someone in your circle, whether it’s a family member or a friend, is gay, transgender, or bisexual.

“You should appreciate that those people are valued members of society, people that are doing something good in the world,” Blake said after his five-set loss to Croatian Ivo Karlovic.

“They should feel comfortable to live their lives. I think any sort of policy that discriminates against them, that excludes them, is completely unfair in today’s day and age. That’s why I say we’re 50 years out and there are still things going on that are discriminatory,” he said, invoking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's famous speech.

Blake is a member of Athlete Ally, which works to end homophobia in sport. He says that in the sporting culture, there’s often “a lot of macho sort of showboating when everyone should feel comfortable."

His remarks stand in contrast to comments from six Russian tennis players on the women’s side of the draw at the US Open.

According to USA Today, the women pled ignorance about the measure President Vladimir Putin enacted in June, declined to comment, or talked about respecting Russian laws.

Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 US Open winner, offered that she had heard of the controversy but didn’t know enough to give an educated opinion.

She added, "In Russia, if you don't support Putin you are in big, big trouble.”

Russian professional hockey player Ilya Kovalchuk recently signalled his support of the anti-gay law.

James Blake’s remarks follow fellow American athlete Nick Symmonds’s statement of solidarity with gays and lesbians at the recently concluded World Athletics Championships in Russia, where at least two Swedish athletes registered their opposition to the law banning so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.

When asked to comment about the law, Canadian and American hockey players voiced varying levels of opposition to the legislation, with Team USA director of player personnel Brian Burke adopting a more blunt tone in condemning the law.

The International Olympic Committee has indicated it would discipline athletes who make political statements or gestures in contravention of Rule 50 of its charter, while Putin has issued a decree prohibiting “gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets” that are not part of the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics, from Jan 7 to March 21.