With just weeks left before the Sochi Winter Games, both the Australian men's and women's bobsled teams have announced partnerships with the Principle 6 Campaign to show support for Russia's LGBT community.
"We're against discrimination in sport, full stop," said Heath Spence, captain of the Australian Men's bobsled team. "That means we also oppose discrimination against gay and lesbian athletes."
The campaign, named after the International Olympic Committee's nondiscrimination clause, Principle 6, opposes anti-LGBT policies and discrimination in Russia and was formed early last month by two nonprofits: Athlete Ally and All Out. Starting this week, the Principle 6 Campaign becomes an official sponsor for the men's team with its logo appearing on its bobsled at the World Cup event in Lake Placid, N.Y.
"We don't just believe that on principle — some of our most loyal supporters have been gay," Heath said. "They've supported us, so it would be hypocritical of us not to support them. All of us bobsledders are the biggest, the strongest, the fastest athletes in the Winter Olympics. And there's two or four of us jammed into a sled. If we can support gay rights, why can't everybody else? We're proud to have the Principle 6 badge on our sleds."
With the addition of the men's and women's teams, the campaign has the backing of over 40 Olympic athletes. In December, the campaign launched a clothing line featuring the support of several Sochi-bound Olympians including snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, speedskater Blake Skjellerup, and alpine skier Mike Janyk.
"As Putin tries to put on a friendly face in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremonies at Sochi, it's never been more important to shine a bright light on Russia's cruel anti-gay laws," said Brian Ellner, a founding board member of Athlete Ally. "It's promising to see so many athletes from all over the world step up to make their voices heard and I'm glad the Principle 6 campaign is helping to facilitate that."
The new sponsorship was initiated by the team and is meant to show support for upholding diversity and inclusion at the games, according to Steve Conklin, the team's coach. "We are honored to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community," he said. "We feel that our team has a responsibility to the athlete community to foster a completely inclusive culture."
The sponsorship will continue through all races leading up to the Sochi Games, according to Ellner. The Australian Olympic Committee expects to send contenders in three events: one in the two-man (male), one in the two-man (women), and one in the four-man (male) to compete in bobsled in Sochi.
"Each day, more athletes are seizing on this historic moment to join the movement to end discrimination in sport," said Andre Banks, executive director of All Out, in a statement. "When world-class athletes speak out in support of Principle 6, the International Olympic Committee and the Russian hosts of this year's Games are forced to listen. We hope more brave athletes will join the Australian team and speak out powerfully ahead of the Sochi Games."