Snowboarder Belle Brockhoff had been in Sochi for less than an hour before the question was inevitably asked: “To the gay question: will that distract you?”
The 21-year-old Victorian, who is openly gay, has been Australia’s most vocal athlete about Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws in the lead up to the Winter Olympics, which start on Friday.
"I won't be doing anything crazy towards these gay laws,” she insisted. “I’ll just be doing my job as an athlete and athlete only. Not until after my competition. This has been my focus for 10 years and I’m not going to change that for a law.”
But that doesn’t mean she intends to remain silent on the issue.
The Sochi Olympics has spotlighted laws introduced last year banning the promotion of "non-traditional" sexuality to minors.
While others in the Australian team have dead-batted questions about the issue, Brockhoff has been continually outspoken.
She is a member of Athlete Ally, a non-profit organisation that raises awareness about homophobia in sports, and has joined the “Principle 6” campaign.
Human rights activists claim the laws are at odds with principle six of the Olympic Charter, which opposes all forms of discrimination.
The Australian bobsleigh team will display the Principal 6 campaign logo on their sled. Carlton’s Brock McLean is also a member of the campaign, because he has a gay sister.
‘‘I’ve seen many documentaries about Russian violence towards the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community and it’s sickening and it’s sad,’’ Brockhoff said. ‘‘Hopefully, if I get a medal I will be able to use that platform to point these things out and hopefully get a change but you know if I don’t get a medal not many people will want to listen (to my opinion).
“It’s Putin’s country and he can do what he likes in his country but what I am worried about is the safety for the GLBT community. Obviously there is a lot of violence, torturing, torturing to death almost, and I am hoping to see change after these Games.’’
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates encouraged athletes to speak out about the anti-gay laws in Sochi if they wanted to.
But he warned about doing so at official medal ceremonies or in competition, because political protests at those times are a violation of the Olympic charter.
“I won’t be doing anything like that before my competition,” Brockhoff said. “It’s been my goal since I picked up my snowboard. I may do something, but there are no promises at all. I definitely won’t be doing anything on the podium.”
Brockhoff competes in the snowboard cross on February 16. She is considered an outside medal hope.