Winter Olympics – Sending the Right Message to Russia

February 9, 2014 10:59 am

The Winter Olympics are now underway and the host country is in the midst of disturbing human rights abuse. Suddenly it has become acceptable to openly, and in broad daylight, unleash horrific attacks on other human beings and the government is willfully turning a blind eye.

Unbelievably, these perpetrators are even proudly filming this violence and posting videos online in an attempt to further humiliate their victims (a collection of these videos along with interviews with LGBT activists has been released by the Human Rights Watch – fortunately the victims’ identities have been protected by blurring out their faces). Quite a scary situation for any homosexuals who have tickets to the games. However, Putin has very graciously said that gays will be ok to attend, if they can manage to resist preying on kids, that is. So why are gay people going to these games? Why is anyone going to these games? Why are big brand companies sponsoring these games? Shouldn’t every politician have followed President Obama’s lead in refusing to attend?

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Olympic hosts have a basic code of conduct in which they are supposed to follow. A government must commit to the principle that “any form of discrimination … is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” It seems completely contrary to the very nature of the Olympics themselves to allow a country that has so recently passed laws that cannot be described as anything BUT discriminatory, to host the event. Maybe I am missing the point – perhaps sport transcends politics and to mix up the two is in itself against the spirit of the games. The International Olympic Committee President has asked world leaders to keep their countries’ politics out of the games. I cannot buy into that, however. This is far more than a silly political spat – it is a humanitarian crisis that needs to be addressed. If world leaders, including Obama, feel that they could use the games to publicly denounce a government that is encouraging homosexuals to be viewed as second class citizens, then I for one am fully in support. To really make a positive difference in the world, we need more than Coca-Cola’s lip-service. It seems hopelessly inconsistent to claim they ‘do not condone intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world’ whilst simultaneously sponsoring games hosted by a country that has been rolling out increasingly oppressive laws over the past few years.

On the positive side however, this event is, I suppose, throwing the spotlight onto these human rights issues, and that can only be a good thing. On the first day of the games, Google condemned Russia’s controversial new laws through its doodle, featuring the LGBT gay pride flag and an extract from the Olympics Charter, which highlights the importance of fair play and equality. I was also glad to hear that games broadcaster Channel 4 is not hiding behind the tired old ‘sports and politics are separate’ rhetoric and are also playing an active part in criticising Putin’s government; temporarily rebranding its logo with the gay pride flag and launching an anti-homophobic TV ad. As well as big-name companies, it is also important that countries and athletes competing in Sochi do their part. This is why I want to applaud the German team for competing in brightly coloured rainbow uniforms (the designer claims the designs were in place before the anti-gay laws were implemented, but even if this is really is the case, they now carry a connotation that Germany should be proud of).

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The message needs to be sent to this country that the modern world cannot, and will not accept such atrocities as equating homosexuality with paedophilia and allowing such violence to go unchecked. When Gleb Latnik, a Russian LGBT advocate, tried to file a complaint against an attacker he claims the police reply was simply “You’re gay, so it’s normal that you were attacked. Why would you need to submit a complaint against someone?”. Russia will be concentrating on portraying itself in the best possible light, but we need companies (especially those associated with the games), politicians, athletes, LGBT activists, and of course the general public to use these Olympics to remind the world of Russia’s recent antics, and not allow them to try to brush it under the carpet. As uncomfortable as these videos released by the Human Rights Watch are, it is essential that they are out there for the world to see. And with the advent of one-click sharing on social networking sites, it is now so easy for us all to do our bit, no matter how small.

Although the Winter Olympics means Russia is a good place to start and has shone a light on these issues, it should also be remembered that other countries are guilty of homosexual discrimination too – both India and Australia have recently overturned progressive laws. It is now illegal to be gay in India again after a four-year reprieve, and Australia’s High Court revoked a regional law that meant gay marriage was legal in some parts. World War II started by slowly but surely removing the rights of a people, and if we don’t stand up to this seemingly regressive trend currently going on in the world, we risk a similar thing occurring again. This needs to be nipped in the bud, and the Winter Olympics are the perfect opportunity for the rest of the world to send a message.

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