Sochi 2014 a Platform to Voice Dissent
Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 01:02
With the Winter Olympic Games quickly approaching, attention has intensified around Russia and its controversial anti-LGBTQ law. The law, passed last June, bans “gay propaganda,” including displays of affection and symbols associated with the LGBTQ community. Since then, numerous reports of homophobic attacks and violence have surfaced, leading many to believe that this law has become a green light for attacks against LGBTQ people in Russia.
In response, more than 400,000 people, including 50 Olympic athletes, have signed a petition demanding that Russia end this ban before the Olympics, and several Olympians have called on the International Olympic Committee to pressure Russia toward this same goal. U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, however, recently told ESPN, “They’re there to compete. They’re not there to talk about their politics or their religion or anything else.”
In one sense, Blackmun is right; our Olympic athletes are there to win medals, not necessarily to push an agenda. Nevertheless, his comments show a lack of understanding of the impact that Olympic athletes could have on the world. The Olympics are one of the most widely broadcast events of the year, and top athletes have the potential to be universally revered. The words of Olympians have weight, whether Blackmun would like to admit it or not, and that power should be used for good.
This law denies freedom and justice for Russia’s LGBTQ citizens, particularly because the Russian government is using the term “gay propaganda” very liberally. Russians are no longer allowed to discuss gay rights in schools or the media, nor are they allowed to hold events like pride parades. Furthermore, the situation could potentially worsen, as a bill currently in front of the Russian parliament could take children away from LGBTQ parents.
This anti-gay climate affects not only Russian citizens, but also citizens from all over the world and athletes who will travel there this month. In an effort to appease critics, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently stated that gay tourists would be safe in Russia as long as they left kids alone. Yet, these words may not hold true and are still inflammatory. Olympic security personnel tackled a man for holding a rainbow flag as the Olympic flame passed by, and the British government warned openly gay British actor Sir Ian McKellen against attending the Olympics because of growing concerns for the law’s wide ramifications.
But while this law is harmful to the many LGBTQ people who will attend the Olympics, even athletes, many of them will be protected thanks to their celebrity status. This benefit, however, is not afforded to the millions of Russians who fall victim to the law in their daily lives. Olympians must take this opportunity to take a stand against the oppressive laws that Russia has passed and that Russia intends to pass in the coming months and years. It is their duty and responsibility to speak for those who are being silenced right now, as well as stand up for those who are not afforded the same protections.
To rectify this situation, some have suggested a boycott of the Olympics. After all, there is precedent — the United States led a boycott against the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was followed by the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. But while a boycott would send a clear message to the international community, it would also effectively silence the would-be loud voice of Olympians. The Olympics offer a perfect platform for athletes, thanks to extensive television coverage, advertisements and other media coverage. In a field often relegated to the back section of a newspaper, athletes suddenly find themselves on full-page spreads and front pages. This chance comes only every couple of years, and it would be a waste to squander it.
Eric Nevalsky is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.