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The 2014 Sochi Olympics And LGBTQ Rights

The 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi, Russia are fast approaching.

This comes after Russia passed a law that bans any “homosexual propaganda” towards people under 18. For athletes and fans, this brings great controversy. There have been rumbles of athletes not only opposing the law, but threatening to boycott the Olympics all together.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted gay and lesbian athletes have nothing to fear at next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, yet many have their doubts. “We will do everything to make sure that athletes, fans and guests feel comfortable at the Olympic Games regardless of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation. I would like to underline that,” said Putin.

Gay rights groups have accused the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of not putting enough pressure on Russia. Activists in the West have been outraged at the measures, calling on athletes and countries to boycott the Games.
Many athletes have proposed the boycott of the games if their safety is not guaranteed. There was some suggestion that gay visitors might face prosecution in Russia, but Moscow says this will not happen.

“People in attendance will be at ease,” said Putin.

President Obama is against the new law, but does not believe a boycott is necessary. Let’s face it, there is far too many advertisers from the U.S that have already contributed boatloads of money into the Olympics, and a boycott will greatly effect that. Avoiding a boycott would be in everyone’s best interest, and many hope it does not get to that.
Yet, there are still many concerns. Fans will not be able to wear traditional “rainbow type’ clothing or they will be fined under this new law. Is Russia going to change their law just for the Olympic games or will they enforce it?
Under the homosexual propaganda law, private individuals promoting “non-traditional sexual relations” to minors face fines of up to 5,000 roubles, while officials risk paying 10 times that amount. Businesses and schools could be fined up to 500,000 roubles.

In June, when this new law was passed, many Russians did not take it lightly. Many gay-rights activists took the fight to the street and boycotted the new law. Fights broke out when anti-gay campaigners met them in front of the Duma. The police did not break up the violence and it led people being hurt. One group ran into a local business to hide from the anti-gay activists. The activists ran inside the store and physically fought them. The violence that took place was widely covered but nothing was done about it. No arrests were made.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 but anti-gay sentiment is still high. A recent poll found that nearly half of Russians believe that the gay and lesbian community should not enjoy the same rights as other citizens.

This situation has not only been recognized in Russia. People in New York, London and around the world have boycotted the use of Russian products. Gay bars in such places are refusing to sell any Russian imported vodka or any other Russian imported beverage.

Most athletes have openly been against the law, but not all of them. In August, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva spoke out in favor of the law at the World Championships in Moscow, but later said her comments concerning homosexuality had been “misunderstood”.

This subject is difficult for any athlete. Many are afraid to give their opinion on the matter because no matter what they believe it will be perceived bad in one side’s eyes. After Jason Collins came out, many athletes did “have his back” but a lot do not agree with it. Take Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace as an example. He tweeted remarks that proved he was homophobic and not supportive of playing with a gay athlete. He was immediately blasted by the media regarding his comments and ended up having to retract his tweets and publicly apologize. It will clearly take many years to change the general public’s stand on gay rights. Over the last few years they have vastly improved but like racism, it is something us as humans will have to battle throughout time.

The Olympics is a time that is about the world coming together. It is not only about the athletes. It is about countries from all over coming together, people of all ages, backgrounds, and lifestyles are supposed to come together as one.

Even with this law in Russia being passed, it cannot be in effect during the Olympics. How is an athlete going to focus on winning a medal for their country if they’re worried about being fined for wearing a certain color pattern or their sexual origin?

One’s sexual reference has nothing to do with the way they perform as an athlete.

James Belluscio can be reached at james.belluscio@spartans.ut.edu.

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