Do We Have To Choose Between the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics OR Gay Rights?

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No, we don’t. Though Russia’s controversial anti-gay laws sparked huge calls for a boycotting of the Sochi 2014 Olympics, next month the games will kick off in Russia with all scheduled competitors attending. To consider this as a lull in the fight against Russia’s harsh Anti- Gay stance though would be unjust. In fact, by supporting our LGBT athletes in the face of a government who opposes them, i’d say that the fight is as strong as ever. 

 It is with no surprise however, that many did make the call for boycotting the Sochi 2014 Olympics, as arguably the attitude and actions of the Russian Government, towards members of the LGBT community, do not align with the fundamental principles of Olympism. Just to remind ourselves, as by the official Olympic Charter, the first two principles stand:

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

Russia, in passing a law criminalising “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” and by doing so conveying to the nation that any other ‘sexual relations’ should be looked down upon, have pushed members of the LGBT community ‘into the shadows’, as it were, for fear of their safety. This, clearly, does not respect the universal fundamental ethical principles of basic human rights or free speechand nor does it promote peaceful society or in any way respect or preserve human dignity. Whilst stating that international Olympic Athletes and fans visiting the country are protected from this law, many have argued that no country should have the right and honour of the Olympic games after enforcing such a law upon their people: not only is it not Olympian, but it is not humane. I’m inclined to agree with them.

However, to boycott the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics because of this law would be to effectively throw our hands up, shout “we don’t agree” and then…what? Though boycotting the games altogether would have been detrimental to the country’s reputation, wasted a lot of their time and money, and made it clear that we do not agree with their laws, the LGBT community within the country would still be in the exact same situation that they are now – alone, and in fear. Though Putin has conveniently cleaned up his act in the last few months, sanctioning the early release of the group ‘Pussy Riot’ and pardoning those involved in Greenpeace’s Arctic 30 in a clear attempt to save face in time for the upcoming Sochi games, I find it very hard to believe that a boycott of the games itself would put pressure on him to retract the harsh anti-gay law. In fact, an act of such defiance for the whole world to see might even have encouraged harsher restrictions and disregard for what is seen elsewhere as basic human rights.

Instead, by standing strong with our athletes, many of whom are surely members of the LGBT community, and supporting them in achieving the goals they have been working towards for the last 4 years and longer, the international community has the chance to show a strength and solidarity to those suffering from this law within Russia and prove compassion for their cause. By attending the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, nations from around the world are not showing support for how the country is ruled, just as by attending the 2008 Summer Olympics in China was not a nod of approval to the human rights abuses we all know occur within their borders, but is an opportunity for athletes from each nation to not only represent their country in sporting competitions, but to represent the values that they hold dear in the face of tyranny. Obama’s move to appoint openly gay Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow as his delegates for the Olympics is a clear statement of his determination to represent these values, with King stating in an interview “When we step off the plane, we are part of America. We are what America looks like”, just as any member of the LGBT community competing within the games will be representing what people in their country ‘look like’: that is, just the same as every other person on the planet.

In a way it seems as if Putin has actually shot himself in the foot, as it were. By enforcing such a law before such a huge international event, he has managed to ensure that the words on everybody’s lips surrounding the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be: ‘gay rights.’ It is almost as if the entire event has been surrounded by an impossibly large rainbow flag with very similar properties to a ‘Chinese Finger Trap’ in that any resistance or attempt to escape, by way of negative move against gay rights by the Russian Government, will only encase the event tighter in the flag of equality and acceptance. Rumours are circling that the event’s opening on Feb 7th will see mass protests and that activists are planning to use the entire event as an opportunity to push a gay rights movement in Russia. Brace yourselves, it would seem that the Sochi 2014 Olympics will be very interesting indeed.

What is it they say… Let the games begin?

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