An Overcomplicated, Underrated Issue: Russia’s Gay Ban Controversy

So I wanted to write a post about the controversy arising from a Russian lawmaker’s comment that Russia’s homophobic laws would be enacted with extreme prejudice on Olympic athletes. Unfortunately, this was very hard to write because I had a lot of righteous anger that is not usually conducive to typing on a computer, mainly because your urge to throw something across the room is in direct opposition with that fact. I wasn’t planning on writing about Sochi 2014 so soon. There’s so much information that I decided to organize this post on all the players involved. Please keep in mind that my tone is jesting because sometimes you have to laugh rather than continue to pull your hair out.

sochi 2014

Look how pretty! Look how homophobic!

The Russian Government

Haha, Russia. You’re so funny. Yes, let’s host the largest international sporting event in the world and then threaten the people coming with possible human rights abuses. That’ll really up our brand. Better yet, let’s threaten the men and women who, by coming to this Olympics, are some of the most finely honed physical specimens in the world. They can probably all kill us with their bare hands and eat us for breakfast and then win a gold medal.

And what’s with you, passing such laws in the first place? Alright Russia, pretend you can do what you want and you don’t care what anyone thinks. I mean, it’s not like you’ve ever had to face the consequences when it comes to your actions towards minority groups, right? You’re been Russia all my life, so it’s always been that way, right?

IOC

C’mon, guys.

The IOC

Nice job paying attention to the global paradigm shifts in the past ten years. How are you going to fix this? You can’t do what you did in 1939 in Nazi Germany, asking them to take down the racist and anti-Semetic propaganda. Unlike the Nazis, Russia is outright threatening the athletes coming the country – which means they are acting worse than the Nazis. WORSE. THAN. NAZIS.

You did negotiate with Qatar and Saudi Arabia to bring women into the Olympics, and everyone cried when Sarah Attar ran across the finish line. Those small, triumphant moments are what keeps people caring about the Olympics. But it’s a little hard to have that Jesse Owens moment if the Russian is threatening of whole group of people, and specified that they would be coming for Olympic athletes. Unlike the situation with Saudi Arabia, where the problem was a lack of rights, and Germany, which threatened its own citizens but not outsiders, and South Africa, which you outright banned from participating, Russia has outright endangered the Olympics. Not that the problems beforehand were any lesser, but this is not a situation that you can ignore because it will not only hurt the Olympic reputation, it will have painfully realistic consequences otherwise.

Michelle Kwan, my hero at 6 years old.

Michelle Kwan, my hero at 8 years old.

The Athletes

While I understand the sentiment behind Stephen Fry’s absolute ban, I don’t think it’s going to happen. There is no way we are boycotting the Olympics. It didn’t pull Russia out of Afghanistan in 1980, and it won’t be any more effective now. The athletes have worked hard and long for this Olympics, and if any country takes away what you’ve worked for, it’ll only hurt them and denigrate and destroy the dreams of not only the athletes, but the fans of those countries, who will lose on a hero and the chance to see certain cultural sports celebrated in a global arena.  However, Fry’s subtler suggestion of crossing one’s arms when receiving a medal as a show of solidarity on the athlete’s part is much more viable — and I have no doubt we’ll see an intense amount of solidarity during these Games. In fact, while the London Olympics brought a new stance on a “Social Olympics,” Sochi 2014 will add a whole new dimension with this very loudly political element. I can just see the hashtags now….

The Olympic Rings outside Adler airport near Sochi

The Olympic Rings outside Adler airport near Sochi

Media & Non-Profits Groups

Don’t suggest things like showing rainbow flags during the Opening ceremony when you don’t know all the rules in the Olympic charter. Boycotts, as I noted above, hurt countries, athletes, and fans. This banning Russia from their own Olympics is a fine idea, but the IOC tries to be more subtle than that. The impulse of these entities is that they govern themselves, and don’t bend to such small entities. The IOC is particularly like this, considering how they adamant they are about the separation of sport and politics. We can’t shame them into acting – only guilt them. Shaming them is acting as if their choices – to keep the games in Russia – mars their worth, the worth of the Olympics, and the athletes and countries participating. (There’s a difference between telling a kid “What kind of person hits their sister?” versus “You hit your sister, why don’t you say sorry?” to simplify it.) (I speak from experience.)

Guilting them is pointing out problems and calling for rectification rather than retribution – and is much more successful. When Saudi Arabia lost their sole female athlete entrant into the London 2012 Olympics (who had already previously participated), it was brushed away as a sad fact. At least until the Human Rights Watch released a report on Saudi Arabia’s exclusion of women in sport. It was not written for the sake of having a Saudi Arabian woman in the Games, but for the sake of pointing out this incredible injustice — but it gently directed the media towards this story, this outrage at a particular moment. What became a long-range problem became a short term one that the IOC could solve, in a way. While it didn’t directly solve the long-range problem by any means, it did give us hope. And actually, that hope panned out when it came to Saudi Arabian women playing sports.

I look forward to seeing how this story progresses, and what the IOC does about it — I hope it’s good.

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