NBC Sports Chief Talks Sochi Olympics, Keeps Curt on Russia's Anti-Gay Laws

2012-27 REP Mark Lazarus P

The NBC Sports chairman's tape-delayed Olympics might be irking purists, but the ratings don't lie: London's first few days are breaking records for a non-U.S. Games.

Russia's draconian anti-gay laws are stirring up controversy for NBC Sports as the division prepares for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus would not address directly the issue at the division's Saturday afternoon Television Critics Association press tour session. But he promised that if the controversy was still front and center come Feb. 6, when the company's 18 days of coverage begins, it would not be swept under the rug.

"We'll address it at the time because it's still unfolding," said Lazarus, adding that the IOC has taken up the issue with the Russian government. 

"The IOC has addressed it with the Russian government and has assured athletes, fans and media that there won't be any issues," he added. "Governments across the world have different laws. I don't know how it's going to [affect] us. If it is still their law and it is impacting any part of the Olympic Games we will make sure we are acknowledging it and recognizing it."

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Earlier this month, the Russian government approved a law banning gay "propaganda," with those displaying pro-gay signs or speech at risk of arrest. The government also declined to allow a Pride House at the Games; Pride Houses, which welcome LGBT athletes and fans, have been a presence at world events for several years, including the Vancouver and London Olympics.

Certainly Bob Costas, who will once gain host NBC's primetime coverage of the games, has not shied from addressing controversies – political and otherwise – during his on-air commentary. He called out the IOC for declining to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre at the opening ceremony in London last summer. And he mocked NBC executives for cutting away from The Who's performance at the closing ceremony to premiere a special episode of now-canceled sitcom Animal Practice. Appearing on Conan O'Brien's late night program last fall, Costas deadpanned: "I'm sure you'd be the first to attest, Conan, when it comes to the tough calls, NBC usually gets them right."

Sitting on the dais at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday, Lazarus did not seem to find any humor in Costas' joke.

"He was looking for a quick joke, I didn't think it was funny," he said. But he said that such a situation would not be replayed during their Sochi coverage. "You learn some things along the way. I don't think we'll put ourselves in a position to do that again."

E-mail: Marisa.Guthrie@THR.com
Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie