The gold-medal winning diver, who later came out as gay, said a boycott would only hurt athletes.
Greg Louganis, the U.S. diver who won four Olympic gold medals and later came out as gay, told Chris Matthews on Hardball Monday night that while he’s disheartened by a series of anti-gay laws passed by Russia recently, he does not support boycotting the 2014 games in Sochi, a strategy backed by some gay activists.
“While I’m strongly opposed to Vladimir Putin’s treatment of the LGBT community and will fight hard to reverse these heinous laws, I do not support a U.S. boycott of the Sochi Games,” Louganis wrote in a recent essay. “Boycotting sends the wrong message and will only harm the hard-working athletes set to compete in the 2014 Olympics, not the Russian government itself.”
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter went on NBC’s Meet the Press to announce plans to boycott the summer Olympics held that year in Moscow unless the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan. The Soviets did not pull out, and American athletes did not participate in the Moscow games, The Soviets responded by boycotting the 1984 Summer games in Los Angeles.
The Cold War is over, but Russia announced recently that its latest anti-gay law—which allows for the fining and detaining of anyone who promotes homosexuality to children—would apply during the Games, and would apply to include foreign athletes and spectators. that led human rights activists turned their focus to protesting the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Louganis said his personal experience shows how devastating a boycott can be for athletes who have dedicated their lives to competing in the Olympics.
“An athlete, an elite athlete, has a shelf life,” Louganis told Matthews. “I was fortunate, I was able to continue competing through ’84, through ’88 and I was on both sides of two boycotts.”
Louganis competed in the ’76 games in Montreal, the ’84 games in Los Angeles, and the ’88 games in Seoul, Korea where he suffered a concussion after hitting his head on the springboard. In 1980 Louganis would have been the American team’s captain.
“I was very blessed in that aspect, but not every athlete has that opportunity,” he said.
Louganis said he doesn’t think there needs to be a political reaction from the athletes. Instead he supports a softer approach such as a show of solidarity with the gay community at the games
“If all of our allies were to dedicate their performance to their gay uncles, son, daughters—to make it individual—it personally tells a story that they’re in support of their gay family,” he said
Full disclosure: I also am a former All-American swimmer. I also came out as gay after my career was over. Though I was a Junior Olympic champion, and a Big East Conference and U.S. Open finalist, I did not make it all the way to the Olympic Games. But I devoted 17 years of my life to training and competing in a sport I love, giving me a clear understanding of the impact on so many athletes if they lost the chance to compete at the Olympics.