When I was a kid, I knew skiing was good for me. It was fun. It was fast. It was dangerous. It made me feel free. When I watched the Olympics for the first time, I immediately connected with a new idea: maybe sports could be as good for the world as it was for me. A global event with free people doing their best could inspire everybody watching to be a little better themselves.
As I went on in my racing career, and eventually to the Olympics in 1994, those ideals coalesced and became my own hope: that personal achievement might actually help improve the world, even if just for a couple of weeks. I know it’s a little grand, but still—countries could come together, and friendly competition could really be a platform for a better life.
I kept watching. Things seemed to change, but not for the better. The Olympic ideals had begun to fade in the bright lights of power and commerce. This culminated in what seemed like the worst possible situation: the Games being held in a place where some athletes and visitors were ostracized, abused, even criminalized. Not only weren’t LGBT athletes and fans free to better themselves, they weren’t even free to be themselves. How could I reconcile my reverence for the principles of free Olympic competition when Russia, a host country, passed anti-gay laws seven months before the Games?
The outrage and the outcry were dramatic and immediate—and deserved. But the IOC stayed largely silent. It was business as usual, with the emphasis on business. This seemed so far from my experience as an athlete and as a fan, I was almost disoriented. For the first time in my life, I had a hard time watching.
So the IOC’s recent announcement that they would add a new anti-discrimination clause to its host city contract hopefully signifies a change: that the IOC may (and should) see the same connection between sports and the world that I always saw, and then act on it. And demand that host countries do the same.
Make no mistake: the Olympic movement is in trouble. It’s expensive. It’s disruptive. And prospective host cities have been pulling out of the process, partly in fear of the damaging effects. This is the literal opposite of what the Olympics can do for a city and a country. When Athlete Ally and others demand that the IOC stays true to its stated standards, it will actually bring back the culture of inclusion, excellence, achievement and sportsmanship that matters so much to the world.