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USOC chief to athletes: Speak out before Sochi, but focus on sport there

Scott Blackmun says Games not a venue for political advocacy

While Scott Blackmun, head of the US Olympic Committee, said in October that the sports body would not ask American athletes to keep their political views to themselves in Sochi, he recently told ESPN that athletes should feel free to speak their minds before the Games but focus on sport when they're in Russia. Credit: Screen shot from TheGuardian
In October, US Olympic Committee head Scott Blackmun said the sports body was not putting pressure on American athletes to keep quiet in the face of Russia’s anti-gay laws. guardian.co.uk

In an interview with ESPN, the head of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) says that he hopes American athletes feel free to speak their minds before heading to the Sochi Games but that they will be at the Olympics to compete, not to be political.

In October, Blackmun said that the USOC was not putting pressure on American athletes to keep quiet about Russia's anti-gay laws, even as he warned about the consequences of speaking up at the Games.

"What we can do is advocate for change within our movement, so anything that we can do within our international Olympic movement, within the US Olympic movement, we want to do to make sure that people understand that we want all of our athletes, irrespective of any distinguishing characteristics or orientation, to feel comfortable and a part of the US Olympic team," he said then.

In August last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC)  warned athletes about protesting at the Winter Olympics, a move that drew the criticism of human rights organizations

More recently, the IOC's new president, Thomas Bach, reiterated that athletes should not court controversy at the Games by participating in protests or making political statements.

In the last few weeks, Russian authorities have released members of the Pussy Riot band, businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Greenpeace activists in what many observers see as a bid by President Vladimir Putin to offset ongoing criticism about the country's deteriorating civil liberties. 

Blackmun also spoke with ESPN about security risks at the Games in the wake of two suicide bombings in Volgograd, located to the northeast of Sochi,  that claimed several lives.

The US has issued a travel alert for the Russian Federation.