Sochi Shame

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As “sanctioned protest zones” are announced for the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014, how are LGBT athletes supposed to compete on the world stage with pride, asks Rob Buchanan?


International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has announced that there will be “sanctioned protest zones” at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. President Vladimir Putin had previously signed a pre-emptive decree banning all demonstrations, which would have covered the duration of the Olympics, so these sanctioned protest zones appear to be some crumbs from the master’s table, or at least an attempt to silence the on-going international outrage over the Olympic hosts’ homophobic laws.

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, similar zones were set up by that other Orwellian host state, China. However these zones were little more than cynical traps to allow the Chinese to conveniently identify and neutralise any potential embarrassing resistance. They required applications to be made by interested parties, which resulted in many of the ‘successful’ applicants being detained by authorities, with the rest being heavily sanitised. I suspect the sanctioned protests at Sochi 2014 will prove similar, since Mr Putin is well known for taking many of his moves from the playbooks of dictatorships both past and present.

The International Olympic Committee also used the recent meeting to remind all Sochi 2014 participants not to make political protests. Rule 50 in the Olympic Charter states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Whether you agree with the use of the Olympic games as a stage for discussing human rights, Russia has already fired the first volleys in this propaganda war. If the nation seeks to be on the world stage, then surely it should be warts and all. If Russia is proud of its criminal and inhuman treatment of its citizens, then surely it can bear the criticism of the world it seeks to invite?

It’s hard to imagine any other 21st century host would so blatantly seek to control the free speech of spectators or visitors to its country.

So if actual protests from non-athletes will be toothless due to the impotence of the ” sanctioned protest zones”, and actual demonstrations, however subtle, by athletes likely to ruin careers, at least in the short run, how can people demonstrate their disgust at the injustice being meted out to queers in Russia, not to mention many other minority groups?

It seems boycotting is an option many high-ranking European and International leaders are turning to. Europe’s Commissioner for Justice, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights, Viviane Reding has announced she is refusing to attend Sochi 2014 in protest. She tweeted: “I will certainly not go to Sochi as long as minorities are treated the way they are under the current Russian legislation”.

Much of the attention seems to be on heads of state, gay rights organisations or heterosexual athletes, but let’s not forget the not insignificant amount of queer athletes who will be taking the stage in Sochi. Are they really expected to bow their heads before a regime which deems them and the people they love as little more than sexual deviants?

Can they really look back at what should be their proudest moment on the world stage and feel that most important word to all queers, pride, if they didn’t make a stand?

With Putin’s heavy handed homophobia galvanising opposition around the world from even more moderate nations, it remains to be seen whether the Olympic

flame will ignite the type of righteous courage for Queer rights which the likes of the 1968 Olympics did for Black Power

But it is another games which comes to mind more when I think about Sochi. It is the 1936 Nazi Olympics in Berlin when so much of the world had sought to look the other

way in appeasement when a totalitarian fascist regime sought to stretch its muscles and dared the rest of the world to question at what cost its power came. Many men

regretted for the rest of their lives the missed opportunities to stand up for righteousness in 1936.Sochi 2014 perhaps could be a unique opportunity for a generation to look back with Pride.

© 2013 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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