Olympics: Boycott won't help gay rights, say ski champs

Boycotting the Winter Olympics in Sochi would do little to help gay rights in Russia, the world's top skiers said Thursday, asking that sports remain free of politics.

The comments followed calls for athletes to stay away from the Games, which take place from February 7-23, to protest a homophobic new law in Russia.

"I don't think a boycott would serve any purpose really. Obviously those laws they have in Russia are pretty silly in that regard, but it wouldn't do anything to boycott it," US skier and triple world champion Ted Ligety told journalists.

"It just doesn't make any sense: you're only hurting the athletes because we work for four years for that kind of event and those laws will go on anyway," he added.

Norway's triple Olympic medallist from Vancouver in 2010, Aksel Lund Svindal, agreed that athletes should be allowed to focus on their sport.

"Politics and sports shouldn't mix... Sports are fair and they're pure and the best will win, and politics are not that way," he said.

By mixing the two, "you take away the beauty of sports."

The skiers, who are getting ready for the start of the new World Cup season this weekend in the Austrian resort of Soelden, were unanimous that only a concerted effort could have any impact on events in Russia.

"Of course as an athlete you can raise awareness by talking about what's going on, but whether we can achieve something by doing so, I don't know," said Austria's sweetheart and 2011 world champion Anna Fenninger.

"If we all do something together, I'm definitely in."

"If it's to make any difference, that has to come from a much higher level than a single athlete," added Svindal.

"To put that responsibility on the single individual and not on the actual power that choose where the Olympics go, is unfair."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has faced criticism for awarding the Olympics to Sochi, given Russia's human rights and environmental record.

The kinds of issues that are now coming up "should be taken into consideration more," when a host city is chosen, US ski star Julia Mancuso told AFP.

The IOC said last month however that it had no business weighing in on laws in host countries as long as the Olympic Charter was respected.

Russia's ban on homosexual "propaganda" has sparked boycotts of Russian vodka in gay bars around the world, criticism from pop stars and a vocal Internet campaign for Russia to be stripped of its right to host the Games.

Others however have called for softer signs of protest by athletes, such as wearing rainbow colours.

For Ligety, this could be an option.

"But I don't know how much you want to mess with the Russian authorities either," he said with a grin.