I am about to speak very strongly about what it means to me to watch the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. I sincerely hope that I do not offend your sensitivities with this piece, but I feel that this must be said.
Once again, the Winter Olympic Games are upon us. Like many people, I love the Winter Games. I love each and every event, and every four years I sit down to watch as the athletes compete. This year, however, everything is different. This year I find myself in the middle of a moral dilemma, and I urge you to consider this also. Given the gross state-sanctioned human rights violations being carried out against LGBTQ individuals in Russia, the question we must ask ourselves before tuning in is “should we watch this year’s Winter Olympic Games?”
For quite some time now, we have been watching, reading, and hearing an endless stream of articles, news reports, and call-in segments concerning anti-gay laws put in place by Vladimir Putin’s government. These laws have relegated LGBTQ people to almost non-human status, and despite the outcry from North America in protest, Russia has moved ahead unfettered. Just a few short months ago, Russia made good on a promise to halt adoptions to couples living in countries where same-sex marriage is legal. In Canada, not far from the small town that I call home, a couple was recently blocked in the middle of the adoption process because Russia had begun to enforce this prohibition on adoption to gay-friendly nations.
Most people, by now, have heard of the Russian activist hate group known as ‘Occupy Pedophilia.’ Equating pedophilia with homosexuality, these thugs act on the ridiculous premise that gay men actively rape and coerce young boys into the so-called “homosexual lifestyle.” They find men who they assume to be gay, torture and beat them, humiliate and dehumanize them, and then they post the video footage online. In Canada or the United States, these disgusting displays of hate would be punishable under law. In Russia, they are not illegal, effectively protected by both the laws of the state and the authorities responsible for the protection of their citizens (or at least the heterosexual citizens. In fairness I will note that a few token arrests have been made, but the charges have nothing to do with hate crimes). The state and police protection are what concern me most here, all made globally public by the Olympic Winter Games.
Despite campaigns and petitions by LGBTQ activists and allied groups, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has refused to bend on their decision to hold the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Claiming to support the ideals of human dignity and equal opportunity, the IOC has demonstrated hypocrisy; standing firm on the decision to keep the games in Sochi while the Russian state protects those who beat, torture, and humiliate a minority of people for no reason other than a difference in who they love.
So should we watch the Winter Olympics this year? There are two perspectives on this.
One: The games are going to go ahead despite our refusal to tune in, and it’s not like refusing to watch is going to make one iota of difference financially or politically. Russia will not suffer from my television remaining silent throughout the games. As for the human rights abuses, the Olympics is not the forum to deal with that. That is a political matter, and must be fought separate from a global sporting event. Furthermore, the long-suffering athletes who have poured their sweat and blood into getting to the Olympics deserve our support.
Two: What the Russian government is doing is a moral outrage. Refusing to watch will not make a difference, but at least my conscience will be clear. Watching only says that we are indifferent to the suffering of the sexual minority. It says we are fine with Russia acting with pure hatred and still being handed success from the international community. The Olympics IS the forum to deal with human rights abuses. The Games have always stood for equality and human co-operation. The only time we see nations who disagree come together and act in the spirit of dignity and co-operation is to compete in the Olympics. When a nation is violating that spirit, the Games are tarnished. The long-suffering athletes have worked very hard, sure, but do we owe them more than we owe the people being tortured and left for dead because they are different? Absolutely not.
In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Berlin, Germany. At the time, nobody was completely aware of what Adolf Hitler was capable of. It was generally agreed upon that he was an evil man, and there were attempts to stop the games, but the Summer Games went ahead and Berlin hosted anyway. In 1942, Hitler implemented his ‘final solution.’ The success he had been handed in 1936 was given to him despite his genocidal intentions …
I bring this up to raise an important question: what would it take to have the games moved or even cancelled? The organizers of the 1936 Summer Olympics can be forgiven, seeing as how the Holocaust was not yet apparent and had not reached its full momentum; but it was still known to some that Adolf Hitler was committing atrocities against people in his own country. The current situation in Russia is not so uncertain. The organizers of the 2014 Winter Olympics maintained Sochi as the host city while watching a minority undergo terrible treatment right under their noses. There is no evidence to suggest that what is going on in Russia will reach the level of the Holocaust, I would not be so careless as to suggest that, but the ideal is the same – members of a specific minority are framed as less-than-human, and targeted for systematic removal from society. Germany did it with firing squads and gas chambers. Russia is doing it with societal shaming and turning a blind eye to physical abuse and humiliation. Sure the numbers are different, but the idea is identical. Of the two perspectives looked at above, I personally choose number two. Despite the lack of any tangible point made by my refusal to watch, I cannot in good concscience watch it. I will not begrudge those who choose otherwise, but I just cannot watch a country celebrate and pretend to welcome the nations of the world, all the while targeting a specific minority with ignorance, hate, and violence.
Should we watch the 2014 Winter Olympic Games? It’s your choice. I choose no.