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IOC Has Their 'Head In The Sand' Says Tennis Great Navratilova

posted 10 Dec 2013, 15:13 by Mpelembe

Legendary tennis star Martina Navratilova slams the International Olympic Committee for not doing more to defend gay rights for athletes at Sochi Games

UNITED NATIONS (DECEMBER 10, 2013) (UNTV) - Tennis star Martina Navratilova said on Tuesday (December 10) theInternational Olympic Committee has not done enough to defend the rights of gay athletes ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Russia triggered angry criticism and even calls to boycott the Sochi Games when, in June, it banned spreading "gay propaganda" to minors. Critics denounced the law as discriminatory and a curb on rights to free speech and assembly.

Speaking at the United Nations to mark International Human Rights Day, Navratilova, joined by U.S. basketball player Jason Collins, said focus should not just be on the Sochi Games in February and March, but also on the rights of gay Russians and on anti-gay laws in other countries that will play host to global sporting events in the future.

"I think the IOC needs to stand up better for their athletes quite frankly," she said ahead of a conference entitled 'Sports Come Out Against Homophobia'.

Navratilova, who has become a champion for gay athletes in sport since revealing she was gay in 1981, said she was disappointed with the International Olympic Committee "for really putting their head in the sand" over the Russian law.

"I think we can say that sports and politics are inextricably combined, the go hand in hand and that's where my disappointment was with the IOC where they in fact said sports and politics don't mix which is completely contrary to everything that's been happening," she said.

"Not wanting to make any waves."

The IOC has said it has received written assurances from the Russian governmentthat the "gay propaganda" law would not affect Games participants and spectators.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in October that everything was being done "so that participants and guests feel comfortable in Sochi, regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation." However, gay rights activists have reported a rise of violence toward their community sparked by the new law.

Navratilova also pointed out that while the United States has made progress on gay rights, there was still work to be done.

"We have a tendency to point fingers but we need to clean up our own country first. We're heading in the right direction but still have a long way to go."

The tennis star, who sought political asylum in the U.S. in 1975 from her native Czechoslovakia, did not publically declare her sexual orientation until after she gained American citizenship in 1981 because at the time it would have prevented her from from doing so.

Collins became the first openly gay active player in North America's four major professional sports leagues - the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball - in April at the end of his contract and of the NBA season. At 35, Collins is not playing in the current season.