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Nick Symmonds blasts Russia on gay rights at Moscow track championship

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri August 16, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nick Symmonds is first athlete to openly criticize anti-gay law on Russian soil
  • Runner says he will do anything to champion equality, except get arrested
  • The American took a silver medal at World Track & Field Championships
  • Russian law prohibits talk of gay rights, relationships in earshot of children

(CNN) -- U.S. runner Nick Symmonds took a swipe at Russia's anti-gay propaganda law after winning a silver medal in the 800-meter competition at the World Track & Field Championships in Moscow, according to state-run media.

Symmonds became the first athlete to openly criticize the law on Russian soil Tuesday when, after registering a time of one minute, 43.55 seconds, he dedicated his second-place finish to all his gay friends back home, RIA Novosti reported.

"As much as I can speak out about it, I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them," he told the news outlet at Luzhniki Stadium. "Whether you're gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there's anything I can do to champion the cause and further it, I will, shy of getting arrested."

Symmonds, 29, who appeared in a February ad for the gender-equality group, NOH8, went on record with his sentiments earlier this month in a blog post for Runner's World magazine.

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In it, he flatly stated his support for LGBT rights -- and his disagreement with the Russian law -- but promised not to raise the subject in Russia because "the playing field is not a place for politics."

"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," he wrote.

CNN iReport: What it's like to be gay in Russia

Russia insists the law, which was signed in June and bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors," is intended to protect children. It bars discussion of gay rights and relationships within earshot of children.

International rights groups have called the legislation highly discriminatory, as anti-gay attacks are on the rise in Russia and are sometimes perpetrated by the police themselves.

There have been widespread calls for boycotts and protests -- including a vodka-dumping demonstration in Los Angeles -- casting a pall over the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The gay rights group, All Out, has delivered a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures denouncing Russia's stance on gay rights.

The International Olympic Committee says it has "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."

The committee told All Out representatives last week that it would pursue a stronger, written statement from the government, All Out spokesman Guillaume Bonnet said.

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