Home Social Justice Opinion: At the Olympics, there will be politics

Opinion: At the Olympics, there will be politics

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In just a few months the world will come together once again for the Winter Olympic Games, and though it may be early, I officially have Olympic fever. I have a particular fondness for the Winter Games, watching high-speed skating and luge and skiers and snowboarders who tackle mountain slopes that to my mind should not be survivable. We still have months left until the pomp and ceremony and triumph of the Winter Games, but already it is becoming clear that these Olympics in Sochi, Russia will be an event to remember.

As always, it is the quixotic quest and purpose of the International Olympic Committee to keep politics out of the Games and, in keeping with tradition, politics continues to work its way into the international Olympic discussion. The Sochi Olympics have come under intense and well-deserved scrutiny over Russia’s recent passing of anti-gay legislation, which makes displays of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” illegal. That could be interpreted as broadly as being openly gay in public. The law applies to non-citizens as well as Russians, and the punishment can range from a fine to deportation to jail time. The law has receive harsh criticism from people and organizations around the world, including Olympic athletes both gay and straight.

Thus, the 2014 Sochi Olympics have become a political time bomb, destined to go off in a spectacular way.

We have already started to see the rumblings of what might be coming in February. When the German Olympic Team recently revealed its 2014 uniforms, many saw the multi-colored “rainbow” design as a subversive method of supporting LGBT rights. The German Olympic Sports Confederation claims this is not the case, but it raises the very real possibility that other, more deliberate signs of LGBT support may appear during the Parade of Nations.

American Olympians past, present and future have already expressed some displeasure with the situation. Perhaps the most vocal American athlete on the subject is Bode Miller. Miller, the four-time Olympic skier, has said the Russian anti-gay laws are “embarrassing” to humanity at large. Even beyond the realm of the Olympics, sports figures are not toning down their disapproval. Outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern publically ridiculed the IOC for staying silent on the anti-gay laws, but also for yielding so readily to the demands of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

Stern’s point is a particularly biting one; the IOC has lost all semblance of control over the Sochi Olympics, to the Russians, yes, but also to LGBT rights activists and their supporters in the community of Olympic athletes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There will be politics at the 2014 Olympics and neither the IOC nor the Russians have any hope of preventing that. There will be subtle but noticeable signs of LGBT solidarity in the Parade of Nations. There will be athletes with rainbow ribbons on their lapels or multicolored fingernails. There will be such people in the audience. There will be athletes who will display “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” on the podiums during the awards ceremonies; we know because it has happened before.

The IOC has a responsibility not to interfere in the domestic affairs of another nation. But to say nothing, to refuse confrontation with Putin and more disturbingly to offer no sign of solidarity with international LGBT athletes other than to promise their safety is unacceptable. The punishment is international embarrassment if the IOC thinks of athletes publicly displaying solidarity with gay people as embarrassing. Let the IOC and Mr. Putin wallow in their indignation, should the athletes decide to take matters of “propaganda” into their own hands. History will remember the athletes for such actions, and that is really what the Games are all about.

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