The decision to hold the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia has been a hotly contested decision since the moment it was announced. From concerns of terrorism to President Vladimir Putin’s questionable stance on homosexuality (‘Anti-Propaganda’ laws in Russia prevent public displays of support for LGBT communities and individuals in front of minors, and dictate that gay parents cannot adopt) that has blurred the lines as to what is criminal in Russia, to reports that the Russian Government is euthanizing all stray dogs in Sochi, nothing seems quite right as the Olympics approach.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach feels differently on the subject, saying, “The Olympic stage is ready for the best winter athletes in the world … we can see it in the Olympic villages, which are all of very high quality and offer excellent conditions for the athletes.”
The above quote from Walden does little to placate the worries of most observers, however. President Barack Obama and several other prominent officials have made their opinions quite clear: for the first time since 2000, the U.S. delegation to an Olympics will be without the president, vice president, or first lady. In a similar manner, German President Joachim Gauck, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron will not be in attendance.
To further his stance, Obama has made up his delegation of three openly gay athletes – tennis star Billie Jean King, Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow and figure skater Brian Boitano.
The Olympics, Bach said at a ceremony attended by Putin, should not be “used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests. Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes.”
In my estimation, the decisions made by Obama and other world leaders were not done to win points. They were not done in an inherently political manner; rather, this is just an inherently political topic. It’s a topic that most everyone in the world has an opinion about, one way or another. And as such, it’s not an issue that can be neatly shoved under the rug, as Bach wants it to be. It’s an issue that the rest of the world is responding to, while Russia further blurs the lines between what sort of sexuality is right under Russian law.
At the end of the day, this year’s Olympics hardly feel as if they’re celebrating anything they used to stand for. Of course I’ll still cheer for the American teams, but an event that was founded on the very basis of worldwide inclusion feels as if it’s doing very much the opposite. While countries from around the world are indeed represented, and despite Obama’s nod to gay rights with his delegation choices, the fact is that equal opportunity is not being presented. Gay athletes may have the right to participate, but they will not have the right to privacy from the media. They will not have the right to comfort in public. And they will most certainly not be treated like equals.
It seems, at its core, wrong to paint a picture of something as originally beautiful as the Olympic Games in such a harsh light. But it’s not just a sporting event, not even just a political event we’re dealing with here. It’s an issue of human rights, a question of whether the world is ready for the new day and age we’re entering. The athletes are ready on their end. The media is ready on theirs. The only question that remains is how the world will respond to an issue that will never go away until we respond to it.
So be ready, all, to support your athletes unequivocally. They will undeniably need it on the rink, on the slopes, in the halfpipe, as they always do. But now, more than ever, they will need it beyond that. Sochi athletes from countries like the United States, England and Germany are immensely brave for entering a hotbed of contempt, regardless of their sexual orientation. It only seems fair that we, as citizens, as athletes and as fans, wholly support them, regardless of our own orientation. These games are a fight for equality. Let us not take that lightly.