Skip to main content

Sochi 2014: Gay athlete promises openly defiant stance at Games

updated 3:22 PM EST, Wed November 20, 2013
Skjellerup has produced a badge that he intends to wear at Sochi 2014, with the rainbow a symbol of the LBGT community. Skjellerup has produced a badge that he intends to wear at Sochi 2014, with the rainbow a symbol of the LBGT community.
HIDE CAPTION
Colourful Protest
Proud Olympian
Skating on Thin Ice?
<<
<
1
2
3
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup says he will stand up for his beliefs in Sochi
  • New Zealander intends to wear rainbow-themed badge at Games if he qualifies
  • 28-year-old says he is standing in solidarity with "oppressed" Russians.

(CNN) -- He's unlikely to break a world record or even win a medal but New Zealand's Blake Skjellerup is likely to generate plenty of headlines if he gets to February's Winter Olympics.

The speed skater is currently the only openly gay athlete who could compete in Sochi, at a Games already tinged by Russia's controversial laws on homosexuality.

The June ruling prohibits the distribution of information to minors promoting same-sex relationships and the public discussion of gay rights, but Skjellerup has promised not to shy away from the issue.

Instead, he's planning to tackle it head on.

Read: Putin says gays and lesbians welcome in Sochi

And if Russian President Vladimiar Putin, who signed off the bill, is sincere when recently saying that all competitors will be welcome -- "regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation" -- then the 28-year-old's potential arrival will be the acid test.

Olympian opposes Russia boycott
Could Russia arrest gay athletes?
Athletes: Sochi boycott not the answer
Russia will enforce anti-gay law

Especially if he starts wearing the rainbow badge that has been made especially for him, one bearing the words "Blake Skjellerup -- Proud 2014".

"I will express my feelings and emotions openly (in Sochi)," the Kiwi told CNN.

"I am not going to go back into the closet in any way. I am proud of who I am.

"Yes, Sochi is about my competitive nature -- it's about me competing as a speed skater -- but on the other hand, it's about standing up for what I believe in and being proud of that."

Skjellerup came out after competing at the last Winter Olympics, saying he had chosen not to do so beforehand in order to avoid unwanted distractions in his build-up.

In Vancouver four years ago, he reached the quarterfinals in the men's 1000m short-track event -- and he will soon find out if he has qualified for the 500m at next year's Games.

Another reason given for not coming out prior to the 2010 Games was a reluctance to alienate sponsors and in August, Skjellerup launched an online campaign to generate funds for his Sochi participation.

This was predicated upon a desire to represent the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, with the Kiwi explaining in a promotional video that "love is a human right" and decrying the fact that the act of same-sex couples holding hands in Russia could lead to a jail term.

He has also produced a badge that he will sell to raise funds for his participation and which he intends to wear in Russia, despite the punishments that could come his way.

"The idea behind the pins is about showing a part of me that I am very proud to be," explained a man who lives and trains in the Canadian city Calgary.

Read: Russian activists lobby U.S. on anti-gay law

"In my mind, it is no different to (sporting) a cross or a cultural tattoo. The pin is something I can wear to show that I am proud of who I am and also offer solidarity to the people of Russia, because it is not fair what is happening to them.

Is Sochi ready?
Sochi Olympic torch takes a spacewalk
Amputee skier is ready for the Olympics

"I am in their country, I should respect that but I respect them, because they are the ones who are being oppressed -- and they are the ones who are having to hide who they are and having to live their lives in a way that isn't healthy."

In August, Human Rights First issued a report on the anti-gay "propaganda" law and on the state of LGBT rights in Russia called "Convenient Targets."

Since 2006, it says, 10 regional legislative bodies have adopted laws prohibiting the "propaganda" of homosexuality but those laws have seldom been applied.

It also reports that during the first half of 2013 there were 13 beatings and one murder "motivated by anti-gay bias." In 2012, there were 12 attacks; in 2011, three.

On a visit to inspect Sochi's facilities in September, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) dismissed concerns over the bill.

"As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied. This is the case," said Jean-Claude Killy, who headed up the visiting IOC delegation.

There have been widespread calls for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics in light of the anti-gay laws, but Skjellerup takes a very different view.

"I think being Sochi is a good thing -- not just for me but for this human rights movement," he said.

"It's something that shouldn't be there, and the fact that it came into law in 2013 is absurd.

"I don't know what they were thinking nor what the intent is behind this. It makes no sense to me."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Photography can really pack a punch. Catch up with all the best shots from around the world with our weekly sports gallery.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Of course not. But former Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed seems to think the removal of Michael Jackson's statue was a very "bad" idea.
updated 12:36 PM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Second-tier French side Clermont Foot appoint Helena Costa -- the country's first ever professional female coach of a male team.
updated 11:13 AM EDT, Mon April 28, 2014
San Francisco 49ers owner and co-chairman John York speaks to CNN about Michael Sam and the upcoming NFL Draft.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
The All Blacks and their fans are focused on one thing, says Dan Carter: becoming the first rugby nation to win back-to-back World Cups.
updated 9:08 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
The 2002 bomb attacks in Bali had many victims -- including a touring rugby team from Hong Kong.
Photographer Danny Lyon spent three days with Muhammad Ali in 1972 and shares his best photos and memories of the champ.
updated 7:54 AM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
With a growing audience boosted by the drama of ice hockey on show in Sochi at the Winter Olympics, can the sport capitalize on its popularity?
updated 6:25 AM EST, Mon January 20, 2014
Her paintings may sell for thousands of dollars, but she is best known for a modeling shot 50 years ago that helped launch a business empire.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Thu January 9, 2014
When the eye of the storm closes in most people head home -- but for these surfers it's a different story.
updated 9:45 AM EST, Mon January 6, 2014
Gareth Evans is a school teacher in South Africa. In 1983, he attended a "rebel tour" cricket match against the West Indies.
updated 10:07 AM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
In the wake of protests in his native Ukraine, heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko has turned his back on boxing to focus on his political ambitions.
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Fri August 9, 2013
Former pole vaulter Sergei Bubka is running to be president of the International Olympic Committee.
The Olympics must use its global reach and immense popularity to help save a generation, says sporting icon Sergei Bubka.
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Wed August 7, 2013
CNN's Fred Pleitgen exposes a history of German government-funded doping throughout the Cold War.
updated 12:28 PM EDT, Tue April 9, 2013
A competitor crosses the erg Znaigui during the second stage of the 26rd edition of the 'Marathon des Sables', on April 4, 2011, some 300 Kilometers, South of Ouarzazate in Morocco. The marathon is considered one of the hardest in the world, with 900 participants having to walk 250 kms (150 miles) for seven days in the Moroccan Sahara.
A six-day run that covers more than 220 km through the scorching heat of the Sahara desert has been billed as the "World's toughest race."
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Wed April 10, 2013
He plays the only sport approved by the Taliban, a game he learned as a war refugee in Pakistan.
ADVERTISEMENT