A 2014 Winter Olympics In Sochi: Still On? Elizabeth Entenman

I have a complicated relationship with Russia. After a few beers, without fail I slip into a Russian accent that rivals Gru’s from Despicable Me. I play Russian Roulette with pens when I’m bored at work, the name ‘Putin’ makes me crave poutine and mail-order brides crack me up. But now it’s time to put all jokes aside, because what’s happening in Russia isn’t a laughing matter.

In June, Vladimir Putin created a law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”, defined as giving information to or promoting gay rights to anyone under the age of 18. It’s a law that’s intentionally vaguely-worded, and it sucks. I find Vladimir Putin’s behavior to be uninformed, homophobic and close-minded, and while I’m not a psychiatrist, I’m fairly certain he has issues with his father.

Unfair treatment happens all over the world, every day. Putin and Russia are in the spotlight because of the upcoming 2014 Olympics in – you guessed it – Sochi, Russia. Right now, this law affects LGBT people living in Russia. Soon, it could indirectly affect LGBT athletes from around the world.

What does the International Olympic Committee say?

Nothing official, yet. They’ve received the petitions, heard the outcry and assured us that they’re “engaged in an open and constructive discussion” with the Russian government. Speaking of petitions, actor Stephen Fry wrote the IOC a poignant open letter urging them to ban the Olympics from Sochi. It’s emotional. It’s real. It speaks the truth. It’s a great read.

Why is this a big deal, besides the importance of the fair treatment of others? Like Fry mentions in his letter, the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi are turning out to be very similar to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin – aka Nazi Germany. Less than 100 years ago, such awful, unfair treatment that I can’t imagine and can only read about in books was happening on a large stage. Nazi Germany and Hitler’s rule seem like ancient history, things I’ve only read about, but my grandparents were alive in 1936; it wasn’t that long ago. To think that the 2014 Olympics in Sochi could be compared on that same level makes me sad.

Not that you can really compare the two; freedom of religion and gay rights are different freedoms. But at the same time, they’re both human rights. Hosting the games in Sochi would potentially rob LGBT Olympians of the happiness, glory and pride that come with the Olympic experience. And in turn, all of that positivity would instead be deposited in Putin’s ego.

Then what’s the right move?

I love the Olympics. For a few weeks every two years, I unashamedly morph into a couch potato, hum ‘Chariots of Fire’ and feel overwhelmingly proud to be an American, and to be Greek (“Greeks invent Olympics!” I can hear my grandfather shout.) I would be devastated if the games were outright canceled, but it would of course be for a good reason. Moving them to a different city might be a possibility, but one with too many logistics and moving parts for me to consider. And surely Russia has spent billions of dollars building stadiums, creating the Olympic Village and preparing the city for an influx of people.

Some, however, are not shying away from Sochi. “I am going to the Olympics because I believe in the power of visibility,” said Olympic speedskater Blake Skejellerup. I’m inspired by his positivity, but I can’t help but feel that the Olympics wouldn’t be the same with increased security and riots happening just beyond the village. In years to come, isn’t this what we’ll remember most about the 2014 games? 2008: a mind-blowing opening ceremony. 2010: Canada wins hockey in Canada. 2012: the year of the Phelps. 2014: LGBT politics in Russia.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but a 2014 Sochi Olympics doesn’t seem safe, or smart. It goes beyond the safety of the athletes – there are LGBT reporters and volunteers to consider, too. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko issued a statement that the athletes’ privacy would be respected during the games, as guaranteed by the Russian constitution – but surely, that can only go so far.

Featured image via ShutterStock from catwalker

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  1. I’d hope that in the future they might be compared to the ones held in Mexico ’68. It just gives me goose bumps to see the picture of Tommie Smith and John Carlos with their hands in the air telling the world about the human rights situation in their country.

  2. But yeah not gonna lie, that is still pretty harsh for Fry to compare Russia to 1936 Germany. >_>

  3. But yeah not gonna lie, that is still pretty harsh to compare Russia to 1936 Germany. >_>

  4. I’m sorry, but how DARE you compare the Olympics of 1936., where a dictator ruled based on fear, oppression and lies, gassed, tortured, and murdered millions, and committed the most well known genocide in history, to the Olympics of today, just because of a law that’s not even banning gay people or there love or anything, just no gay propaganda. Putin’s whole political ideology is to kind of, go back to the “good old days” of Russia, which I’m not saying I agree with, but if that is the way he wants to run a country, that is not a reason to ban the Olympics from there. Russia’s economy is not doing so hot, and I believe an increase of tourism is just what they need, especially at a time where lots of people there are without jobs. You comparing a law made by Putin that is not even directly persecuting anybody, to the way Hitler ran Nazi Germany is offensive and disturbing to me.

    • It’s Stephen Fry who said that in his letter.

    • I think @Elizabeth was very straightforward about the juxtaposition between the upcoming Sochi Olympics and the 1936 Olympics – “Like Fry mentions in his letter…” honestly I’m not sure how more straightforward you could be. I believe this to be a well written article highlighting some of the obvious problems of hosting the Olympics in such an intolerant country. Fear and oppression are definitely relevant when discussing this topic as people are getting beaten in the streets and during LGBT rallies. I agree with @Alison that, on this particular occasion, you seem to be very misinformed.

      That being said, I don’t think the outcome of this situation is going to make any one happy. If countries boycott the Olympics, then the Olympians and their families that have trained so hard for so long will be denied the opportunity to compete. That’s years of hard work and thousands of dollars wasted on what may be their only chance to compete in the Olympics. And it doesn’t seem that there is a lot of time to prep for the Olympics to be held elsewhere. It will be interesting to see where the next few months lead us.

    • @Esther: If you think that the only thing going on in Russia right now is that there’s “a law that’s not even banning gay people or there love or anything, just no gay propaganda” then you are seriously ill-informed. Gay teens are being kidnapped, tortured and in some cases killed, all while the Russian government turns a blind eye. So while you just sit in front of your computer in self-righteous indignation that someone said something you don’t like, there is a serious humanitarian crisis happening. The Olympics should not be held in Russia, period.

    • Hi Esther, thanks for your comment. In no way did I mean to offend you. My post was intended to inform HelloGiggles readers of the current state of the likelihood of a 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Stephen Fry’s open letter is a big part of that, which is where the comparison of the 2014 Olympics to the 1936 Olympics comes from. Since he is an influential public figure and the letter is gaining a lot of national attention, I thought the letter was important to include in my post.

      Perhaps I should have been more clear that this opinion is his, and I apologize for offending you or any other readers. The letter is linked in the post, or you can read it here: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/08/07/stephen-fry-compares-russian-winter-olympics-to-nazi-hosted-1936-olympics-in-letter-to-david-cameron

      Elizabeth Entenman | 8/12/2013 05:08 am