As Sochi Games Approach, ‘Confrontation’ Soon To Be Newest Olympic Event

Sochi Olympic Rings
As the countdown continues to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, controversy over Russia's anti-gay laws continues to cast its shadow, and plague both the governing bodies of the Olympics as well as many of its major sponsors. Worse yet, both sides have seemed to dig their heels in. Athletes such as Johnny Weir and Blake Skjellerup have already made it clear that they plan on conducting small gestures of protest at the games, regardless of the consequences. Meanwhile, both the Russian government and the International Olympic Committee have made it clear that no protest or public demonstration for LGBT equality will be tolerated. Worse yet, the U.S. Olympic Committee has urged all of its LGBT athletes to comply with Russia's anti-gay "propaganda" law. 

Both sides of this debate have made their stances clear, and as the clock continues to steadily bring us toward February, neither side has shown sides of backing down. If this continues, the controversy is set to come to ahead during the games, a fact that was explored recently by Jim Litke in a column for the Associated Press. Litke contemplates the idea of athletes making good on their promises to demonstrate, and weighs the real-world possibilities should it actually happen:

"Does the IOC or a National Olympic Committee, for example, step in and risk the embarrassment of sending an athlete home for a political gesture? Or stand by and say nothing while the local authorities bundle him or her onto the first flight? Do major sponsors like Coca-Cola, Visa, Dow, Omega and Panasonic threaten to pull out? Does NBC report aggressively on every incident? Take the under on those bets."

Gal.rogge.giLitke does make an apt point when it mentions the fact that this issue concerns more than just the governing bodies and athletes of the Olympic games. Corporate sponsors also have a role to play in this, and have already taken a rather timid stance when asked to comment on the human rights atrocities in Russia. NBC has also faced the idea of a possible Olympic boycott, and has also been petitioned to add human rights concerns to its upcoming coverage of the games. 

He uses an example lifted from last year's Olympics in London to illustrate the IOC's resoonse to a previous issue of human rights:

"When a few Muslim countries threatened to maintain the status quo back home and send teams without women to the 2012 London Olympics, the IOC bent over backwards to change the old order. It played fast and loose with its own rules so some of those athletes could compete.

"Granted, from a competitive standpoint, most of the events they took part in were a farce. So, in hindsight, was the line in IOC president Jacques Rogge's speech at the opening ceremony:

"'For the first time in Olympic history all the participating teams will have female athletes. This is a major boost for gender equality.'"

Unfortunately, Litke isn't confident that the IOC will act similarly to aid its LGBT athletes, since the threat of boycotts by LGBT rights advocates hasn't proved threatening enough to prompt any action. He cites that as the primary reason why the IOC and its sponsors have responded the way that they have. "They repeated the old saw about the Olympics being above politics, then grabbed the cash with one hand and issued a statement with the other," he argues, before adding, "everybody else involved has decided for now that the best strategy is to ride out the storm, at least until all the checks have cleared."


  1. northalabama says

    russia will only be swayed by public outcry from western contries when the economic impact becomes much more painful. right now, their leaders are basking in the results of their actions.

    nbc, sponsors, and the ioc, aoc, and anoc have much lower tolerance to public shaming. keep working, and build the noise steadily to the event, so they will be forced to acknowledge the sentiment.

  2. sword says

    When the first GLBT Olympic athlete is arrested/deported from the Sochi Games…We need to immediate march on Coca Cola’s Atlanta headquarters. Coke then needs to be tarred with a bigot sign.

  3. Miguel R. says

    So, I think that we gays can sometimes be a bit insensitive to other cultures and to their norms. But this Olympic stuff is appalling for two reasons.

    1. This is a human rights issue. To act as though the anti-gay laws in Russia are anything but a human rights issue is to be complicit in some pretty nasty business. The IOC should be especially sensitive to this after 1936.

    2. If Russia feels like being non-hostile to gays is some kind of Western decadence- then you don’t get to host the Olympics. You can’t have it both ways, Russia. Either you comply with the tolerance for different people that one finds in other countries, or you don’t. But if you don’t then don’t expect to benefit economically from us.

    PS. IOC are a bunch of corporate tools.

  4. UT says

    Let’s not stop until there are casualties. We need a symbolic loss to give our push more muscle. Something to run on TV, or put on a million posters. But we will need someone to design the campaign, and an attractive victim.


    The stark truth is that the Olympic Games mean only big business. So the question is if human rights –updated- will be on the chart of conditions to hold the Games/business. If we make a enough big of a fuss –like it or not the Western world is the biggest chunk of such business- that could be the case and only countries that respect those rights could be suitable “business venues” from now on.

    On the other hand if the world becomes more totalitarian and that becomes the new language of business then the wave will recede and we all will drown into inconvenience and oblivion. One reason big movies with international releases avoid the gay thing is to be more sellable to those backward countries (not writing about Islam because cinema is never without issues there).

    There is an unspoken battle today of what can be sorted as a global moral in hand with globalization, and sociologically is a huge thing. Slavery won that battle –though it is still practiced but not legally admitted nowhere-, but sexuality represents a bigger challenge. Our “local” battles with retrograde people give us training to face those similar abroad. The more we (as a vocal minority) can rise our voices the less probable we will buried under the label of inconvenience, so this are important times.

  6. David From Canada says

    This ugly issue in Russia simply is not going to be resolved at the present time. Therefore:
    1. Everybody go to the Winter Olympics there and just do your job.
    2. Most important, make sure that nothing of an international event is ever held in Russia again, until they can move into the 21st Century with the rest of the world.

  7. UT says

    This is a gay issue. The bad publicity is only happening among gays. As with marriage, gays build their own victim status. The right to marry was the issue, haven’t heard much about actual marrying and who’s taking out the trash.

  8. Pat says

    @Dave from Canada:
    “2. Most important, make sure that nothing of an international event is ever held in Russia again, until they can move into the 21st Century with the rest of the world.”

    Well, next up is the FIFA World Cup in 2018, maybe less popular than the Olympics in the US, but equally popular (or more) than the Olympics worldwide.

    Then of course there is also the 2022 World Cup in… Qatar… Good luck with that one!

  9. DannyEastVillage says

    Human rights is not up for debate. Consult the UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

  10. billmiller says

    As I’ve said before….just do not attend! Don’t fly to Russia to see the Olympics. Have parties at home and watch on TV. Do not spend in their restaurants, hotels, tourist sites, or airlines!

  11. Koskalaka Maricón says

    So, it’s official: The IOC is complicit with Russia’s anti-gay propaganda, and both the IOC and Russia WILL crack down on any athlete’s pro-human rights “propaganda” expressions. SMH! Make Russia feel the hurt by competing in Sochi, dear athletes, but the rest of us should boycott and demonstrate against all western sponsors and, during the games, DO NOT tune in to any NBC, CNBC, MSNBC national or local broadcast, radio station or web site. Make the sponsors and supporters pay. Russia, the IOC and the rest understand what money and the lack of money motivates all too well! Be assured that the Olympic games are big business!