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NBCU Dispatches Diversity Chief to Sochi Olympics

Craig Robinson NBC Exec - P 2014
Courtesy of NBC
Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson tells THR he's thankful that the Russia's anti-gay laws will be shoved into the global spotlight.

NBCUniversal chief diversity officer Craig Robinson is headed to Sochi.

As NBC prepares to broadcast the 2014 Winter Olympics amid concerns about Russian laws targeting anti-gay activism, Robinson wants a closer look. On Tuesday the executive, who reports directly to NBCU CEO Steve Burke, boarded a plane to arrive in the country three days ahead of Thursday's opening ceremonies.

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Robinson was tasked by NBCU with heading diversity in 2011. Since then, he's been involved in everything from ensuring the diversity conditions of the Comcast merger to overseeing company diversity-minded programs like "Writers on the Verge" and "Director Fellowship." Robinson's most visible duties involve dealing with outside advocacy groups and responding to situations like calls for Saturday Night Live to add an African-American woman to its cast.

For the Sochi Olympics, Robinson says he has been in dialogue with many concerned gay rights groups as well as NBCU gay employees, and felt the need to be there personally. Before he got on the plane, Robinson took a few moments to answer some questions from The Hollywood Reporter.

What concerns you most about Sochi?

What is interesting about the situation is that there are [anti-gay] laws that are similar to this all around the world that don't get as much attention. This Russian law gets attention because the world is going to be convening there. There's a world spotlight and, thankfully, a dialogue. My greatest concern is what happens when the Olympics are over and we leave. Then, we will be taking the spotlight off.

What's your role going to be in Sochi?

We have a large team of journalists who will be there. I'm not there as a journalist, although I am sure there will be all sorts of stories told, including those that come out of this situation. I thought it important to be there on the ground and be able to add perspective as a member of the LGBT community. I think I will be a contributing voice to what we are seeing.

Is there any sort of guidance being issued to NBCU employees who might wish to be active in demonstrations?

We've gotten guidance from our security team. We are guests in a host country and we are to be respectful of laws and to be wise about how we conduct ourselves. This is in keeping with past guidance we have gotten. I don't think the specific direction is dramatically different. It's pretty standard. It's not wise to become the news. Rather, our job is to report the news.

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You've been paying quite a bit of attention to Russia of late. What stands out?

In recent weeks, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has publicly really changed his comments on the issue. He has not said that he is going to change the law, but in his remarks, he has been clear that everyone is welcome regardless of age, race or sexual orientation. There has been a shift in his tone.

Will you be pushing to meet Putin?

I don't think that's my place. There are government channels which that happens. The IOC speaks to him.

What would you say to Putin if you met him?

If I had the opportunity, and got corporate sign-off, I would absolutely want to speak with him. What I would say to him, what I'd want to know from him is, what is the genesis of the anti-gay laws? These laws seem like a reversal of the forward progress of the LGBT community. I'd want to know what is a driver of the laws. What I'd want to tell him is what you'd expect: These are human rights.

What do you say to critics who believe that NBC and corporate sponsors should have boycotted these Winter Olympics?

There are always going to be different views about a situation this charged. I respect that. I think that boycotting them or early calls for venue change or cancelation, to me, that would be a missed opportunity for a real-world focus on some very unjust laws. Whether we are there or not, the laws are in place. So if the games are taking place, that puts a light on those laws. That's a good thing.

Twitter: @eriqgardner