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?

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Every Participating Country in the Olympics Is Entering Women This Year

The past six months, all eyes have been on Saudi Arabia on whether or not they will enter women in the Games as part of their National Olympic Committee.

And I’ve been trying to write this story every week since May, but the answer keeps changing.

From the HRW website

In February, Human Rights Watch condemned Saudi Arabia publicly and called out the IOC in an extensive report called “Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women’s and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia.”

In a press release:

“‘No women allowed,’ is the kingdom’s message to Saudi women and girls who want to play sports,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that women and girls cannot train to compete clearly violates the Olympic Charter’s pledge to equality and gives the Olympic movement itself a black eye.”

The International Olympic Committee demurred, stating they don’t issue “ultimatums,” even though they have done so before with a ban on South Africa entering the Games until the end of apartheid. In March, however, the possibility of Saudi Arabia bringing in female athletes looked promising. Then in April, they weren’t. In June, things looked good once more, with an actual woman in mind — show-jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas!

Dalma Rushdi Malhas

This is amazing.

Then last week, a female delegation from Saudi Arabia was “not guaranteed.”

On Monday, Malhas has become unable to compete thanks to injury to her horse, and no other women qualified to compete.

BUT YESTERDAY WAS DIFFERENT. Because finally, Saudi Arabia announced it would send two female athletes to London.

Sarah Attar, who will run in the 800-meter race.

So, the answer at this very moment is yes! Hooray! But there are two weeks until the opening ceremonies. The promise of Saudi women competing won’t be fulfilled until we see them on the field ourselves.

According to the IOC, this decision came after months of ongoing dialogue. Saudi Arabia is not the only country who is entering women in the Olympics for the first time.

Qatar’s Noor Al-Maliki via the Guardian

Qatar was easily convinced as they plan to bid for the 2024 Olympics (having failed to get the 2020 Olympics) and Brunei was not even able to send a delegation in 2008, so added a woman to their delegation this time with their list of qualifying athletes. Despite the fact that she would not qualify under normal standards, the IOC included her because the Olympic Charter dictates that “National Olympic Committees have the possibility of entering unqualified athletes in athletics and swimming should they not have athletes qualified in these sports.”

While the IOC’s ambiguity on the subject was definitely frustrating, Saudi Arabia’s back-and-forth in the face of international criticism was even more egregious. However, I believe that Saudi Arabia’s wavering on this has shown two things: first, that the government is holding tight to their values of restricting women’s rights, but also — also! That those values can be challenged if they are put under an international microscope like the Olympic Games.

What does this mean for the fans? Well, I feel that any sports where these three delegations are entered in are going to imbued with political justice. They’ll be the underdogs in their sport, but rooting for them will be even sweeter thanks to the political ideals they represent, and no matter how they do, they will be highly respected for it. That also means that the national broadcasters will (hopefully) see this crazy amazing thing for what it is, and hold on to that news narrative throughout the Games — women’s track and field will be an especially exciting no-more-than-15 seconds.