SOCHI, Russia -- Elvis Stojko knows a thing or two about being in the public spotlight and the traps of social media, and he says hate can’t solve hate.
Stojko came to the defence of Winnipeg native and Team Canada speed skater Brittany Schussler on Monday, who finds herself in the crosshairs of an ugly social media campaign assaulting her for posting a picture on Twitter of herself and Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Canada Olympic House.
Stojko’s wife was also at Canada Olympic House during Putin’s tour and was attacked on Twitter for referring to him as the Honourable Vladimir Putin. Stojko waded into the battle to defend his wife, and on Monday he spoke to the Free Press.
"It’s tough being in this position and in the spotlight because the athletes are here to do their job, to train and compete and be focused," said Stojko, a three-time world champion in figure skating and the owner of two Olympic silver medals. "Then when you want to cut loose and relax a little bit, you see a political figure, we’re in his country and we’ve been invited here.
"There are certain aspects to the laws here that we won’t agree with, whether it be human rights and so forth. We can speak about them in certain forums and there was a forum for people to speak before we got here. But we’re at the Olympic Games now to talk about sport. It’s up to the discretion of the individual athlete to decide how they want to go about it.
"In this particular situation, just because you pose with someone doesn’t mean you agree with what they’re doing. He was invited into Canada House and he was there to invite us into his country. Out of respect for him -- and he runs the country -- they’re being respectful to him. They’re having etiquette. There’s a forum to speak your mind on certain issues. They can speak their mind but this isn’t really the place for it. This is about the Olympics and bringing everyone together and promoting harmony and peace. That’s the whole point.
"The opening ceremonies were all about harmony and peace. We want to try and show the positives. The biggest thing, you can’t fix hate with hate."
Schussler was at Canada Olympic House on Valentines Day when Putin was invited for a meet and greet and was warmly introduced by Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut.
Putin made the rounds and met a number of Canadian athletes, including women's hockey team member Hayley Wickenheiser. Schussler took a 'selfie' with Putin and attached the message, "I should’ve asked him to be my Valentine!"
The blowback was immediate and mostly critical of Schussler’s decision to both take the picture and then later tweet it. Schussler was accused of condoning hate and supporting Russia’s anti-gay laws.
The picture was later deleted from Schussler’s account and the following message was posted: "To be clear I was joking + in no way want to be misconstrued as supporting his values," read Schussler’s Twitter account.
The picture ran on the front page of the Free Press on Saturday.
Schussler was contacted Monday by direct message on Twitter and agreed to be interviewed but was not given clearance by Speed Skating Canada, who sent the following email denying access to the athlete: "For athletes that are still competing, there won’t be media availability outside the mixed zone and in-venue obligations until after their last event, which is the case for all team pursuit skaters.
"In the case of medallists, like Denny (Morrison), we’ve made them more available based on their training/racing schedule."
Schussler did, however, say in one of her direct messages, "I would never intentionally hurt or offend anyone."