Sending officials to the Sochi Olympics is an endorsement of Russia’s anti-gay laws. Make no mistake, the law is so draconian that the audacity of passing it in modern times is a marvel in itself. But, despite the sentiments of the rest of the civilized world, Russia’s law stands and the games will begin in just under a month.
The games are not just about the sport or the athletes anymore. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to see scenes of the athletes in action without some brand’s image or name also appearing in the scene. Olympic supporting brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Samsung, Panasonic, Visa, MSNBC, Dow, Procter & Gamble, and others have faced the sting of the pro-gay lobby’s bite.
Coke responded to concerns, “We do not condone human rights abuses, intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world. As a sponsor since 1928, we believe the Olympic Games are a force for good that unite people through a common interest in sports.”
Will the Sochi games be an endorsement of Russia’s backwards laws or a catalyst that brings attention to the adversity that LGBT Russian citizens face, one that hopefully begins some dialogue for change?
Knowing that the Sochi olympics will likely color his legacy, President Vladimir Putin has stated that Russia “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.”
It’s widely known that President Putin is pushing for the games to represent modern Russia. Coupled with Russia’s anti-gay laws came strict bans on free speech around the games. However, as of last week, Putin has rescinded the ban on demonstrations around the games in Sochi. So what is the image of “modern Russia” that Putin is putting forward? One that, without outside pressure, and left to its own devices, the Russian government will continue its campaign of oppression and injustice.
So by pushing the envelope and not allowing the oppression and persecution that LGBT citizens of Russia face to pass without note, gay rights groups are doing their part to encourage progress. Just last month, President Obama announced that the United States will be sending openly gay delegates to the Sochi games and that Joe Biden, Michelle Obama, and he would not be attending the opening ceremony.