14So far the Sochi Winter Olympic games have proven to be a success. Despite a few embarrassing mistakes during the opening ceremony, including one of the five Olympic rings not working, the winter sports have provided thrilling entertainment.
Credit deserves to be given where it is due, namely to Russia’s government who have managed to pull off a successful Olympic games, despite negativity from the press in the months leading up to the opening ceremony about the country being underprepared to host such a big event.
However, the build up to the Sochi Winter Olympics was also overshadowed by the introduction of Russia’s new anti-gay laws and the ongoing prosecution of homosexuals within the country.
Last year, the Russian government banned the promotion of ‘non-traditional’ sexuality, and made it punishable by fine for individuals or media groups to provide information on homosexuality to those under the age of 18. Any individuals found to break the law can be fined up to 100,000 roubles (£1,975) and media organisations may face fines up to £1m, on top of being shut down for up to 90 days. The introduction of these rules just months before the Olympics was particularly controversial because Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter (by which all countries must obey) clearly states: ‘Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement’.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach that Russia would “do everything to make sure that athletes, fans and guests feel comfortable at the Olympic Games regardless of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation.” This has not stopped many homosexual public figures calling for the games to be boycotted. Stephen Fry said that a boycott of the Olympics was “simply essential” and announced at a protest last summer that “all homophobic regimes say this – they say they do it for the children. They do this to stop children being propagandised at by gay people.”
“That’s not the situation at all. What they have done is unleashed thugs who have done unspeakable things to teenagers, lured them, beaten them, humiliated them, tortured them. This continues to be the case.”
Large businesses and organisations have also made their disagreement with Russia’s treatment to homosexuals clear. Just before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, a rainbow Google Doodle was shown on the search engine’s homepage in place of their regular iconic logo.
It is fair to say that the majority of the UK public support homosexuality and disagree with Russia’s ‘anti-gay’ laws, but is boycotting the Sochi Winter Olympics the best way to show support for the cause? A survey taken by YouGov just after the new ‘anti-gay’ laws came into place highlighted that 20% of the British public believed that boycotting the Olympics was a good idea. However, the Prime Minister, David Cameron outlined that he believes “we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Olympics.”
Indeed, he can be seen to have a point. Surely the successes of homosexual athletes such as the Dutch speedskater, Ireen Wust, (who has just won a gold medal in Russia) does more to support the gay community than not participating at all? Further still, surely small acts of defiance such as Emma Green-Tregaro painting her nails to look like a rainbow, which was seen on televisions worldwide, are a better way of promoting the gay rights campaign than simply not turning up to the Olympics?
Despite the punishment for Russians who promote ‘gay propaganda’ being a fine, for foreigners the criminal act could lead to two weeks imprisonment and deportation – the fate of foreigners who break the law – a punishment which might be handed to Green-Tregaro for her nail varnish protest. Furthermore, acts of protest are also against the rules of the IOC. Rule 50 of the Olympic charter clearly states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
“No form of publicity or propaganda, commercial or otherwise, may appear on persons, on sportswear, accessories or, more generally, on any article of clothing or equipment whatsoever worn or used by the athletes or other participants in the Olympic Games, except for the identification… of the manufacturer of the article or equipment concerned.”
Some may argue that athletes therefore have no chance to protest during the Winter Olympics because they risk their careers. After all, breaking such rules may result in sanctions or disqualification. While it is true that there is that chance, Russia are indirectly responsible for such protests due to being the ones who originally broke the rules of the IOC through discriminating against homosexuality. Therefore, the committee would have to be pretty brave to take action against athletes protesting for gay equality given the fact the IOC took no action over the rule breaking of the host country.