The Google Doodle has become something of a cultural institution ever since the search giant began using its front-page logo as a place for artistic experiments. It’s not usually a place for political statements, but today sees the Doodle attack the problem of LGBT law at the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympiad.
The Doodle features six winter events—skiing, hockey, curling, bobsled, figure skating and snowboarding— displayed in simple caricatures against the rainbow background commonly associated with the worldwide LGBT movement. Beneath the Doodle, Google has reproduced Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter which affirms the importance of participants being able to compete “without discrimination of any kind.”
Russia has been repeatedly criticized for the harsh anti-homosexuality laws passed by Vladimir Putin’s government. While homosexuality itself remains legal, anything perceived to be “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationship” can be punished by law. The laws are blamed for an upswing in the number of violent attacks on gays within the country, with events such as Pride marches often ending in violence.
Many LGBT athletes have expressed deep concern in the run up to the games, with their precise legal status remaining unclear. Russia has not granted an exemption for Olympians and those deemed to be spreading gay propaganda may face deportation, heavy fines and jail spells of up to two weeks.
In solidarity with the Russian LGBT community, many athletes are planning to flout these laws during the games. The Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, who is openly gay, has publicly stated her opposition to the laws and vowed to vociferously protest them while she is in Sochi. Other athletes, including many who are not gay, have announced more subtle plans to highlight the issue during the opening ceremony. Plans include holding hands with team members of the same gender, and wearing rainbow nail polish. The president of the Sochi organizing committee has confirmed that such gestures will not be considered a breach of the law.
Google is not the only organization wiling to attack the LGBT law in Sochi. Channel 4, the British TV station covering the Winter Olympics, has unveiled a new version of its logo redesigned in the same rainbow colors as Google’s Doodle. U.S. advocacy group All Out is encouraging all those involved in the games to display Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter wherever possible. Elsewhere, activists are encouraging a boycott of Coca-Cola who is the main sponsor of the Olympics.
The issue of Russia’s anti-gay laws has been simmering for months, despite the IOC’s repeated assurances that they would not impact the games. The Russian authorities have not been of much assistance in the issue, with the Mayor of Sochi famously claiming that the laws did not cause a problem as there were no gay people in Sochi.
Yesterday, further doubts were raised when a video of an LGBT activist being arrested and heavily restrained went viral. The video has caused increased concerns that the risk of arrest is possible for those attending the games in Sochi.
The Google Doodle will probably be seen as an attack by conservative Russians who support the anti-gay laws. It adds to the woes of a tournament that has already suffered from construction problems. The Twitter hashtag #SochiProblems documents the unfinished hotels, inadequate services and the city’s continuing problems with stray dogs. Both the IOC and Vladimir Putin will no doubt be hoping for an exceptional Olympiad that overshadows these issues.
By Bernard O’Leary