The games must go on
As the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, open Thursday, the games are mired in the controversy surrounding Russia’s anti-gay laws. While these laws are certainly not something to condone, the Olympics shouldn’t be about politics, and the U.S.’s decision not to boycott the Olympics is the right one. The Olympics are about coming together—people from all across the world ignoring their political differences to play sports and celebrate the physical achievements of humanity as a whole. For many athletes, the Olympics are the highlight of their careers—a high point that they have worked for and rightfully earned through blood, sweat and tears. It would be unfair to the athletes who have dedicated their lives to their sports for any country to deny them the right to compete.
However, the outrage surrounding Russia’s anti-gay laws is also certainly not unfounded. Not only is the Putin administration discriminating against gay people, it is also repressing protests surrounding this policy. While there is a designated protest zone in which individuals are allowed to speak freely, it is nowhere near the actual action of the Olympic Games. Additionally, anyone wanting to protest in the protest zone must submit an application and be approved to enter. These circumstances make it unlikely that anyone will take the time to gripe, and, even if they do, the effects will be minimal due to location. It’s clear that this protest zone is nothing more than a facade to mask the fact that Russia is not really allowing anyone to protest.
In recent years, the Olympics have become over-politicized. In response to this over-politicization, at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, many individuals and political leaders cited China’s human rights policies and censorship as a reason to boycott. However, even though leaders in several countries personally boycotted various aspects of the Olympics (e.g., the Japanese royal family did not attend the opening ceremony in protest of China’s violence against Tibet), their respective countries still participated in the games.
Keeping this in mind, there are ways that the United States can support gay rights while still participating in the Olympics. For example, of the 10 people that President Barack Obama named to the presidential delegation to the opening and closing ceremonies, three are openly gay (though Billie Jean King just announced that she wouldn’t be attending due to the failing health of her mother). And perhaps we will see a display of support of gay rights on the podium, in the style of the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute.
Perhaps the best way to make a show of gay support at the Olympics is with our athletes’ performances. In 1936, despite Adolf Hitler’s Nazi propaganda at the Berlin Olympics, the U.S. attended the Games, and Jesse Owens won four gold medals, providing a highly visible counterexample to Hitler’s belief in Aryan racial superiority. Winning gold at the Olympics is really the best demonstration any nation can make.