'The Playing Field Is Not a Place for Politics'
Nick Symmonds will focus on the competition, not rights issues, at world championships.
By Nick Symmonds
August 06, 2013
Editor’s note: Two-time U.S. Olympian Nick Symmonds will compete in the track and field world championships, which begin August 10 in Moscow. Symmonds is writing for Runner’s World before and throughout the meet.
As soon as I announced on Twitter (@nicksymmonds) that I was going to be blogging for Runner's World during the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Russia, I received many responses from my loyal followers. They were generally positive, but several had a tone that really stood out. Several people who know me to be a relatively vocal athlete when it comes to political issues were excited to hear me discuss what it's like to compete in a country with questionable human rights laws. Given that I have always been adamant in my support of gay rights at home in the United States, I assumed these followers were referring to Russia's "anti-gay propaganda" legislation.
These laws, which do not expressly prohibit being homosexual, criminalize public discussion of homosexuality, especially with foreigners. As an American, I believe in freedom of speech and equality for all, and therefore disagree with the laws that Russia has put in place. Given that I am currently residing in London, I will say, once again, that our LGBT neighbors deserve all the same rights as the rest of us. However, as an American who is about to reside in Moscow for 12 days, this will be the last time I will mention this subject.
I say this not out of fear of prosecution by the Russian government, but out of respect for the fact that I will be a guest in the host nation. Just as I would not accept a dinner invite to a friend's house and then lecture them on how to raise their kids, neither will I lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people.
This idea does go one step deeper, though. I am going to Russia to represent my country on the track. This civilized battlefield is where the best athletes in the world come together to metaphorically destroy each other. In the battle of the men's 800 meters, there are no weapons, no generals, no politicians involved, and actually very little contact at all. What you will find are 50 men who all want to become the next world champion, and who will figuratively and literally bleed to do so.
I will say now what I said before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, when people asked me how I felt competing in a foreign country with questionable human rights standards: The playing field is not a place for politics. In a world rife with never-ending political battles, let the playing field be where we set aside our differences and compete for national pride and the love of sport.
If I am placed in a race with a Russian athlete, I will shake his hand, thank him for his country's generous hospitality, and then, after kicking his ass in the race, silently dedicate the win to my gay and lesbian friends back home. Upon my return, I will then continue to fight for their rights in my beloved democratic union.
A huge thank you to all who follow my career, and give me the platform to speak out against injustices I see in the world, both with my words and with my feet.