Out tennis champion Billie Jean King weighed in on the growing calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, Russia, given the nation's violent crackdown on LGBT people and nationwide ban on so-called "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations."
The retired tennis legend told The Washington Blade that any decision to boycott should ultimately be up to the athletes competing — some of whom have trained literally their entire lives for a chance at Olympic gold.
"The athletes who have the most to derive from it and the least to derive from it if they don’t go, I think they should get the vote,” King told the Blade on a conference call about her upcoming profile on PBS' American Masters, set to air September 10. "This is the Olympics. This is about the athletes and the fans, so it’s a really hard call."
While LGBT activists in the U.S. continue to call for a boycott of the Sochi Games, athletes have generally seemed more hesitant to advocate an outright refusal to attend. Out olympic swimmer Greg Louganis, who could not compete in the 1980 Olympics because of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow games that year, has spoken out against a boycott. Out tennis champion Martina Navratilova has also said she opposes a boycott.
The International Olympic Committee has sought repeated "assurances" from the Russian government that LGBT Olympic athletes and spectators will not be impacted by the antigay law, which imposes fines and possible jail time for any discussion or modest support for LGBT people — like raising a rainbow flag — that might be visible to children.
Russia's deputy prime minister issued a letter last week claiming that all Olympians will be safe, but also defending the anti-LGBT law and claiming it cannot be considered discriminatory. The IOC lauded the letter as a "strong" promise that the Olympics would not be impacted by the law.
President Vladimir Putin also appears to be doing what he can to make sure the antigay policy he signed into law in June doesn't distract from his Olympic games — by banning any demonstration, protest, or rallies in the entire city of Sochi during the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games early next year.