Plagued by everything from exorbitant corruption fees to terrorist threats, the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi have already focused plenty of attention on Russia, for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps most inflammatory, however, was the passage of a bill banning poorly defined “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors;” in essence, Putin has institutionalized homophobia in Russia by passing legislation which criminalizes gay rights advocacy. Although he signed the bill over seven months ago, the resulting fall out has yet to settle, and in many ways, has taken up even more of the limelight than the games themselves.
The new law has understandably garnered an outcry from across the globe, with most of the responses being firmly on the side of gay rights. Within Russia, protests have been made by everyone from 14-year old schoolgirls to professional activists; outside the country, they have taken the form of everything from Germany’s fabulous new uniforms to calls for an outright boycott of the games (such as those made by the Russian politically-minded punk rock group Pussy Riot).
To be fair, it hasn’t been an entirely uphill battle for activists. Despite Russia’s assurance that any foreigners can and will (and have) be fined, jailed, and/or deported if found violating the law, international pressures have ceded some acquiescence and the opening ceremony itself ironically featured the work of tATu, a Russian pop duo who gained their fame by feigning homosexuality.
Of course, some are asking what Russia’s political policies have to do with an international sports competition. Former Olympic champion and current Olympic Village Mayor Svetlana Zhurova, for example, has begged spectators and athletes alike not to protest the law. According to her, “we are going to applaud the straight people and the homosexuals just like the previous Olympic Games,” and Sochi is neither the time nor the place for activism.
The Olympics, however, have always represented much more than a medal. Our friends at Google perhaps posed the best argument by pulling up the Olympic Charter itself, and reminding the world of the true heart of the Olympic games: a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play — a spirit which has thus far been sadly lacking under Putin’s tightening iron fist.