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Why Didn’t More Olympians Speak Out in Sochi Against Russia’s Anti-gay Laws?

German olympians

With the constant stream of athletes, politicians, and companies speaking out strongly against Russia’s oppressive anti-gay laws in the months leading up to the Olympics, you might have thought that Russian authorities would have their hands full dealing with up-in-arms activists once the Games actually began.

Unfortunately for the LGBT citizens of Russia, the public criticism from Olympic athletes was, for the most part, muted in Sochi. The Wall Street Journal reports:  

There were no high-profile proactive statements or blatant symbolic gestures by athletes. A few athletes criticized the law when asked by reporters to weigh in, and a Belgian performer who supports gay rights displayed rainbow colors, a symbol of the gay-rights movement, during her performance at the Games.

LuxuriaBut the only really noticeable pro-gay act inside Olympic Park came when Italian Vladimir Luxuria [pictured], a transgender gay rights activist, showed up at a women's hockey game in a rainbow skirt after broadcasting that she planned a protest. Police removed her from the park. A day earlier police detained her briefly after she unfurled a "gay is okay" banner outside the park.

So what happened?

Ashley wagnerThe paper points to the many athletes who said they had already gone on record against the anti-gay laws and felt that using the Olympic platform to promote a political or human rights cause would be an unnecessary distraction from the competition.

"I really have already voiced my opinion and spoken out," said U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner [pictured], responding to questions from reporters. Wagner has been outspoken in her criticism of the Russian laws. "My stand against the LGBT legislation here in Russia is really the most that I can do right now," she said. "I'm here to compete first and foremost."

How athletes in Sochi handled concerns over gay rights varied. Belle Brockhoff, the gay Olympic snowboarder who had promised to “rip on [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] ass” during Sochi interviews, failed to medal and was given minimal press coverage. Gay former Olympian Johnny Weir’s decision to work the Games for NBC but not directly address gay rights in Russia was met with scorn from gay rights groups in the U.S. The German team, meanwhile, debuted a rather gay-looking rainbow outfit for the Games [pictured above], but maintained a steadfast denial that it was meant as a protest statement against Russia's anti-gay laws. Other athletes felt that wearing the 'Principle 6' line of protest merchandise was the proper avenue for Olympians to (indirectly) speak out for LGBT rights. 

Billie jean king_2Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who was among the gay athletes in President Obama’s Olympic delegation, said she supported athletes’ decision to avoid public demonstrations that could get them booted, but disagreed that the Olympics isn’t a place for politics. 

"It is an unbelievable opportunity to exchange ideas and hear each other," she said, standing on a hotel balcony just outside Olympic Park. "Hopefully, out of all these athletes we will have some teachers."

To believe the Olympics can remain entirely separate from politics, she says, amounts to "keeping your head in the sand."

'68 saluteIndeed, using the Olympics as a platform for social activism is nothing new, with the most memorable incident being the black power salute by medal winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. It’s sad to think then, that these Olympics came and went without a similar moment of solidarity with LGBT equality, especially when such international attention was given to the issue. Just imagine how iconic (and bold) of a statement could have been made if a simple kiss was shared between two same-sex medal winners on an Olympic podium while in Sochi.

Now that would have kept the conversation going long after the Olympic spotlight and journalists faded from Sochi. 

The International Olympic Committee, which is under pressure to be more selective in its picking of future host cities, has said it’s impractical to eliminate potentially controversial countries, otherwise the Olympics would be held “in only two places.” Putin, for his part, praised the IOC for taking a “risk” by entrusting the Games with Russia. In a post-Olympics meeting attended by IOC president Thomas Bach and committee members, Putin said one of the main aims of the Games was to show off to the world the new face of post-Soviet Russia, a country he has run since 2000. 

"It was important to show that we are a country with goodwill which knows how to meet guests and create a celebration not just for itself but all sports fans in the world."

With the Games over, however, one can't help but feel a sense of mounting concern for Russia's "goodwill" towards its already marginalized LGBT community. The removal of parenting rights for gay couples in Russia, for example, could very well be the next step in Putin's anti-gay agenda. 

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Comments

  1. Masha Gessen has a piece on this over at Slate:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/02/24/sochi_olympics_how_the_international_lgbtq_rights_movement_failed_russian.html

    Posted by: KevinVT | Feb 24, 2014 1:34:20 PM


  2. RUSSIAN activists were detained in Petersburg and Moscow the day of the opening ceremonies. That could have gotten a lot more coverage than it did.

    Posted by: KevinVT | Feb 24, 2014 1:35:33 PM


  3. These athletes were more interested in competing and winning medals than they were in Gay Rights. Any who prioritized Gay Rights would've boycotted those games. I'm sorry, but human rights trump Olympic gold in terms of overall importance.

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Feb 24, 2014 1:42:28 PM


  4. "I'm here to compete first and foremost." Disgusting.

    Posted by: MARCUS BACHMANN | Feb 24, 2014 1:47:22 PM


  5. Our tepid response during these Olympics was truly an embarrassment. We completely wasted this unique opportunity to share the need for gay rights with the entire planet.

    Posted by: Håkon | Feb 24, 2014 1:59:49 PM


  6. I tend to find that when an issue doesn't affect one directly, one thinks that just saying a few words is sufficient to allay one's conscience and count it as "action" against an issue.

    Writing some words on an online board, saying some words to a reporter, and being silent when one is against an issue are not being active in protest. I am guilty of this, and I'm sure many others in the world are as well.

    I applaud those who get out of their chair, march down a street, call an elected representative, wear their protest on their sleeve, and take action at the cost of personal safety and freedom. Not all of us have such courage, but to those who do, I applaud you (of course, from the keyboard of my computer in my comfortable office at home).

    Posted by: Keith | Feb 24, 2014 2:01:42 PM


  7. If you read between the lines, you'll see that UAE, Qatar, Bahrain are interested in hosting future Olympics, and have the money to buy support from the IOC. And they definately don't like gays. The IOC needs to be impeached and replaced, simple as that.

    Posted by: Kev C | Feb 24, 2014 2:03:33 PM


  8. If it doesn't look like a duck. and doesn't walk like a duck and doesn't quack like a duck.....it's not a duck.

    Athletes gave us nothing.

    It profits a man nothing to gain the whole world if he loses his soul..........but for a medal ?
    Not a gesture, not a voice, not a quack.

    And what will the dead say ?
    "We fought like animals for better meds. , we fought to our deaths for retro-virals, and we fought Reagan and the FDA and the entire world for recognition and health care and we did not wilt under the hatred of a hostile society."

    You athletes are not worthy of the spittle of the dead.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Feb 24, 2014 2:04:40 PM


  9. IOC should be treated like Uganda and Arizona

    Posted by: litper | Feb 24, 2014 2:15:16 PM


  10. The majority of them want that dumb-*ss metal.

    Posted by: mike | Feb 24, 2014 2:16:12 PM


  11. The simple fact is that the Olympics had nothing to do with the anti-gay law in Russia. The connection has always been very tenuous. Was it "Russia is bad, let's boycott everything Russian"? Or was it "Putin wants the games, let's rain on his parade"? Either way, the connection fell apart when the games started. It was all about the sports - and rightfully so. As a gay Russian, I can only see the actions of the gay community in the West as a mistake - at best they were pointless, at worst, they might have led to burnout. Chances are, people will stop caring about gays and lesbians in Russia after the Olympics, even though the things didn't get any better. And it probably wasn't a good idea to turn gays and lesbians into a stumbling block when quite a few people already dislike them. Thankfully, the games were a success and the controversies are mostly forgotten. We need to act smarter.

    Posted by: Eugene | Feb 24, 2014 2:16:18 PM


  12. while I agree witht he sentiments here - to me these olympics did not even compare to past ones....in all facets...excitement etc etc...

    Posted by: disgusted american | Feb 24, 2014 2:20:49 PM


  13. Eugene, the Sochi olympics were not much of a success. They were forgettable at best. And then the problem of how Russia dominated in medals by some mysterious intervention implying corruption played a role at Sochi.

    Posted by: Kev C | Feb 24, 2014 2:24:40 PM


  14. But remember what happened to John Carlos and Tommie Smith after their salute? According to LIFE magazine: "Smith and Carlos were vilified at home for their stand. They were suspended from the U.S. team. They received death threats. But neither man ever apologized for his raised fist or his bowed head — and neither ever had need to."

    (LIFE.com http://life.time.com/culture/black-power-salute-tommie-smith-and-john-carlos-at-the-1968-olympics/#ixzz2uGkUQ67m)

    Posted by: Kevin | Feb 24, 2014 2:25:07 PM


  15. Olympic athletes are no better than the IOC. All I ever heard from the majority of them is how much hard work they put into getting to the games.

    Apparently the hard work to compete athletically with other athletes from around the world is more important than the hard work of people fighting for their freedom.

    Fo many years now I have viewed Olympic athelets as socially retarded, living in an insular environment that concerns itself not at all with the macroscopic issues of the world.

    All their athleticism lies in their muscles, and not between the ears.

    I did not watch these games, nor will I ever in my life time ever watch an Olympic event again . . . until Olympic athletes evolve, and can demonstrate that they can both walk and chew gum at the same time.

    Until then, they do not get my respect.

    Posted by: Ricco | Feb 24, 2014 2:26:45 PM


  16. To who? Did any of you contribute to the training of these athletes? Did any of you sacrifice for these athletes? Do any of you even know who these athletes are? Yet you denounce them for not standing up for you? For not pursuing their life long dream? It is what they live for. And you and your selfish ways want them to toss it all out of the window for you? What if someone asked you to put your dreams on the back burner, what would you do? You speak of respect but you don;t know the meaning of the word because clearly you have disrespected these athletes, their families and their dreams.

    Posted by: EXPOSING YOUR TRUE SELVES | Feb 24, 2014 2:35:39 PM


  17. @Kev C
    That's just bitter and baseless. "Mysterious intervention"? What does it even mean?

    As far as I can tell from the comments on news sites, people liked the games and the ceremonies. And even if you think they're forgettable, they still were a success compared to the vile schadenfreude coverage leading up to and shortly after the opening ceremony.

    Posted by: Eugene | Feb 24, 2014 2:38:04 PM


  18. @KEVIN -DO NOT CONFUSE BEING GAY WITH BEING BLACK!!! WHITE AND LATINO GAYS DISCRIMINATE AGAINST BLACKS DAILY!!! THERE IS NO COMPARISON! AND SINCE MOST OF YOU ARE SO OFFENDED, WHY DON'T YOU STOP USING ALL PRODUCTS THAT DO NOT SUPPORT THE GAY AGENDA THE WAY YOU FEEL THEY SHOULD. PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS AND DO A LITTLE RESEARCH AND LETS SEE WHAT "YOU" ARE WILLING TO GIVE UP!!!!

    Posted by: EXPOSING YOUR TRUE SELVES | Feb 24, 2014 2:38:40 PM


  19. @BARCUS BACHMAN - SHE'S RIGHT. SHE WASN'T THERE TO FIGHT YOUR BATTLE, IT'S NOT HER PLACE. HOW DARE YOU CRITICIZE ANY OF OUR ATHLETES! THIS WAS A SPORTING EVENT! WHAT, IF ANYTHING, HAVE YOU DONE FOR THE HUMAN RACE LATELY OTHER THAN COMPLAIN????

    Posted by: EXPOSING YOUR TRUE SELVES | Feb 24, 2014 2:42:20 PM


  20. @RICCO - APPARENTLY YOU'RE NOT AND ATHLETE AND HAVE NEVER HAD TO TRAIN FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN PROBABLY SUCKING A COCK! WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO CALL ANYONE ANYTHING? BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T DO WHAT YOU WANTED, NOW ALL OF A SUDDEN THEY'RE ALL BAD PEOPLE? GROW UP AND REALIZE THAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY HAVE DREAMS THAT DON'T INVOLVE BEING USED AS POLITICAL TOYS!

    Posted by: EXPOSING YOUR TRUE SELVES | Feb 24, 2014 2:52:20 PM


  21. @ EUGENE :

    Who's saying there was a connection between the Olympics and the anti-gay laws ?

    We only wanted a gesture of solidarity, of support .
    Was that too much to ask ?

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Feb 24, 2014 2:54:31 PM


  22. The 2014 Olympics was athlete narcissism on parade. "Me me me" media publicity, a fixation for medals and post Olympic corporate bling was the #1 priority of almost all the athletes, their sponsors and NBC. Advocacy for LGBT human rights never stood a chance against such a powerful corporate mindset. But the 2014 Olympics also shined a glaring light on the disgusting IOC money whores exposing them for who and what they truly are. No wonder Mitt Romney fit right in with that crowd.

    Posted by: DavidAZ | Feb 24, 2014 3:09:00 PM


  23. Eugene, it's being called the most corrupt olympics ever by mainstream media. And some of that corruption implicates the IOC.

    Posted by: Kev C | Feb 24, 2014 3:10:36 PM


  24. After everything that has happened to us, being sent to the Camps in the Holocaust, the AIDS crisis wiping out half a generation of us, and these athletes are so self admiring that not one of them have the courage or the soul to make a gesture of support to the oppressed gays of Russia.....

    What a bunch of cowardly losers....all of them.

    @ Exposing Your True Selves ;
    "That is what they live for ."
    Obviously !.......total self obsession....and thorough ignorance of everything else.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Feb 24, 2014 3:16:27 PM


  25. @ ExposingYrTrueSelves; What a pathetic loser. Why don't you reveal yourself?! Give us your true name and address and telephone number. You're just a loathsome anti-gay troll who's a total waste of carbon atoms. Why don't you go f*** the bloody pus*y of a woman on her period... Go to hell. You don't know anything about anything. How dare YOU even talk to us?! Who the hell are you to say anything? If you don't like it here, then get-the-hell-out-loser! You think we're supposed to bribe and massage heterosexuals to be treated like human beings?! F*** you! Drop dead. You mean NOTHING to anybody here. You have no argument, no logic, no valid premises or conclusions that follow. Drop dead you narcissistic, selfish, myopic hideoous troll .

    Posted by: whoooski | Feb 24, 2014 3:16:35 PM


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