Did the International Olympic Committee make a mistake in selecting Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games starting in early February?
The popular opinion is leaning more toward the affirmative with each passing day.
Before granting Russia the opportunity to host the event in July 2007, the IOC was undoubtedly aware of the overwhelmingly negative public opinion of homosexuals in Russia, with only 16 percent of the population believing that homosexuality should be accepted by society.
Perhaps there shouldn’t have been so much surprise on behalf of the IOC when nearly six years after the decision to grant Russia the Winter Olympic Games, the Duma (lower house of the legislature) passed a massively controversial law which, in the words of Russian president Vladimir Putin, “prohibits propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia among minors.”
The uproar has been pronounced, with some going to the lengths of organizing a petition to relocate the games to Vancouver, a city which successfully hosted the 2010 Winter Games.
It would be naïve to state that politics can be completely separated from a competition that brings together nations from across the globe that are certain to have complex, fragile relationships between each other. It’s a good thing to question the IOC for its ill-advised decision and Russia for its Middle Age attitudes regarding homosexuals. Questioning will help both parties in the future.
However, when the legendary Olympic torch is lit, it’s time to leave these gripes at home. However valid the criticisms of Russia’s policies may be, we must not let our disapproval muddle the true essence of the Olympics. The world admires the Olympics as a celebration of unity through sports and competition, not as a political debate over the shortcomings of a nation.
To protect this competition from excessive political outcry, Russia has designated a protest area in Khosta, a town approximately seven miles from any competitions.
Some see this movement of the protest zone to an inconspicuous location as a quelling of freedom of speech, while others view the action as a way to preserve the integrity of the Olympics. I tend to side with the latter.
Should we have our athletes enter the Fisht Olympic Stadium for the Parade of Nations with a congregation of protesters outside drowning the celebration with cries of contempt?
It would be a disservice to these athletes to make these events about anything other than their sacrifices and hard work to compete at such a high level for their respective homelands.
Putin has repeatedly reassured those concerned with the treatment of homosexual athletes and visitors in Sochi that they will face no discrimination for their sexual orientation. He does maintain that homosexual propaganda geared towards children will be prohibited, which signifies an intensely unhealthy attitude towards his perception of what homosexuals are like.
Despite this bizarre statement, the IOC has not deemed this statute in violation of its Fundamental Principles of Olympism, which states “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
Although Russia has backwards laws and ideals regarding homosexuality, gay people should feel completely safe from legal action in Sochi. Any gay visitors to the games won’t violate the propaganda law because they will be there for the Games, not to interfere with Russian politics.
Russia’s duty as hosts of the Winter Olympics is to provide a wonderful, festive, well-organized athletic competition, not to be the progressive, liberal nation that we want them to be.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @MurphJamin