Using Sochi, Russia as the venue for the Winter Olympics is detrimental to the spirit of Olympic competition. Sochi first began to pose conflict among the international LGBT community in 2013, when Russia passed legislation to outlaw homosexual “propaganda.” According to the new Russian laws, anyone suspected of homosexual exhibition or support near minors could be fined and arrested. The anti-gay laws were passed four years after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that Russia would host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Such discriminatory legislation is appalling and quite contrary to the cores of Olympic practice, peace and unity. According to the Official Olympic Charter, the goal of the event is to promote a “peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” In addition, the charter also asserts that the human right to practice sport is not to be barred by discrimination of any kind. Ironically, in January, the Mayor of Sochi issued a statement that no gay citizens resided in Sochi. The statement was proven false by confirmation of two known gay clubs in the city, but suggests an attempt to avoid the LGBT discrimination debate. The real issue is to determine whether boycotting the Sochi Olympics or performing pro-gay demonstrations on site could benefit Russian LGBT rights more.
There is much uncertainty as to the level of scrutiny Sochi will use to interpret anti-gay laws. The Chairman of the European Affairs Subcommittee regarding foreign relations, Chris Murphy, has issued a statement discouraging his gay and lesbian friends from traveling to Sochi. Murphy suggests that the Russian law is unpredictable, and management of anti-gay legislation could go both ways. At present, any pro-gay demonstrations are outlawed in Sochi, while political demonstrations in general are a violation of the Olympic Charter.
However, Sochi authorities have selected a the village of Khost as a safe-zone for demonstrations during the Olympic games. Khost represents a small compromise between international LGBT advocate groups and Russian legal purists. In addition, anti-gay propaganda law is applicable to foreigners present in Sochi during the Olympics. The penalty for violating the law is up to $3100 in fines, as well as 2 weeks jail time. Applying discriminatory laws towards visiting tourists is a violation of universal civil rights. In 2013, the United Nations made an international appeal that all countries strike laws that discriminate against LGBT, but Russia did not comply.
Overall, it is disappointing that the IOC has not done more to address Sochi’s blatant disregard for the Olympic’s spirit of peace. The IOC’s mismanagement of the competition is detrimental to the overall integrity of the Olympic charter. Throughout the world, this year’s Winter Olympics is gaining the reputation for being Putin’s pet project. Despite many warnings against travel to Sochi, a handful of athletes are being sent to the venue and represent the US.
Leading the US Olympic delegation is openly gay tennis legend Billie Jean King. Joining King is ice hockey player Caitlyn Cahow, who is also openly gay. Both ladies hope to set an example by attending the games, and representing both a group and country based on equality. While their presence is considered a pacifist demonstration, holding the Winter Olympics at Sochi is still a dangerous statement.
Editorial by Victoria Chuidian