Russia’s gay propaganda ban raises questions about Olympics

The Winter Olympics in Sochi are still some months away, but they are already causing international outrage.

The Games themselves aren’t the source of the problem.

Russia is.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin implemented legislation that banned all “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors.” The question is, how will this loosely construed legislation affect athletes and spectators of one of the greatest international competitions?

The International Olympic Committee reassured the world by stating that the latest anti-gay policies would not be enforced during the Games. Afterwards, the Russian government contradicted the IOC’s earlier statement by confirming that the anti-gay legislation would indeed be enforced during the games and argued that the law did not discriminate against anyone because it would apply to everyone, homosexual or otherwise.

Whether it applies to everyone or not is irrelevant. The legislation at its core is violating basic human rights. Because of it, a group of people is not free to live life naturally, and is instead coerced to limit self-expression. How is this not discrimination?

Even worse, the IOC seems to be slinking back and accepting this very lukewarm argument as sufficient. As a major international organization, it seems silly that they aren’t doing more to protect people going to Russia and are accepting intolerance that goes against the core values of the Olympic Games.

Why the IOC is keeping such a low profile is strange indeed. In the past, the IOC has used their influence against other countries hosting the Olympics.

In 1988, the IOC helped bring about democratic elections in Seoul before the Summer Games. Again in 2008, the IOC used their influence to successfully urge China to abolish its law requiring journalists to get special permission from the government before interviewing Chinese citizens. For the past decade or so, the IOC strongly encouraged countries hosting the Games to be more environmentally friendly.

So why can’t the IOC do anything about the anti-gay policies in Russia?

Protests are cropping up all over the world. Bars are boycotting Russian vodka. A petition is circling to move the Olympic Games from Russia back to Vancouver. Queer Nation and other LGBQTA activist societies demand that Coca-Cola, one of the biggest corporate supporters of the Olympics, boycott the Games.

Such boycotting, however, has historically proved ineffective. President Obama is strongly against boycotting the games.

He stated at a news conference earlier last month that, “One thing I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes we’re seeing there (in Russia).”

Similarly, Coca-Cola defended its sponsorship of the Olympics Games by stating that participating in the Games would further advance the advocacy for gay rights rather than “sitting on the sidelines” and passing the opportunity.

Robert Malekoff, associate professor of sport studies, commented on how hard it is to find a viable solution.

“It’s hard for me to believe that no one would step up, and at least, in some way shape or form, try to voice … their displeasure with these laws in Russia,” said Malekoff.

Athletes are suffering from the pressure, he goes on to explain, because if they boycott the games they will lose the opportunity to compete after devoting years to training, and if they don’t, people will criticize them.

What will actually happen during the Olympic Games is not beyond speculation. With intense protests already raging through the world, we can only expect an escalation as the Winter Olympics approach.

But one thing is for certain: such intolerance will not be tolerated.