The 2014 Winter Olympic Games kick off today in Sochi, Russia amidst a flurry of controversy concerning the country’s stance on gay rights. In 2013, Russian president Putin signed into law a number of policies which effectively render homosexuals as second class citizens, denying them the basic rights they should be afforded as humans beings. These include banning the adoption of Russian-born children to gay couples and also to any couple in a country where marriage equality exists, allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals suspected of being homosexual or ‘pro-gay’ and classifying any reference to homosexuality as being ‘pornography’ (meaning that a parent or teacher who tells a child homosexuality is ok could be subject to arrest).
These are the actions of a man who clearly doesn’t view basic human rights as something worth protecting or celebrating, and would rather force people to live in fear of persecution. He’s essentially forcing people to make the difficult choice of either denying who they are, or facing a life riddled with conflict and void of many rights afford to their heterosexual counterparts.
For the past number of months there has been a call to boycott the games in Russia, with celebrities, authors, writers, political activists and social media heavy hitters all weighing in. However, the games have not been moved and Putin has not changed his stance, so for the next two weeks we all need to make a personal choice about whether we can support our athletes in the face of such oppression.
Ironically, the Olympic Charter states that “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” When you consider this, it’s almost absurd to think that the Games are taking place in a country that has decided to remove basic human rights from a massive portion of the population. Furthermore, many of Putin’s decisions affect people worldwide, resulting in his hatred spreading beyond the borders of his own country.
At a time when the world should be coming together, the Sochi Games are instead proving to be divisive. While the world watches we will see the best and the worst of people, and the juxtaposition is startling.
Personally, I’ve struggled to decide whether I should completely boycott the games or voice my opposition but still support our athletes. It has proven to be a much harder decision than I could have ever imagined. I still vividly remember celebrating the Canadian Men’s Hockey Win during the 2010 Vancouver Games, and the feeling of pride and community was palpable. I can’t imagine many people in Russia feeling that same kind of pride and community in 2014, and I hope that most of Canada agrees that some of the magic is gone this year.
That being said, I love our athletes and I love our games. These people have worked hard their entire lives to build to this moment, and the anti-gay propaganda imposed by Putin was certainly not their decision. They should not be the ones to pay the price. So I’m going to support our athletes because they deserve better than what Sochi is giving them.
However, while I support them and hope to see Canada bring home many Gold medals, I also hope that the nations around the world stand together and continue to tell Russia that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. There is more than enough hatred in our world and the Olympics should focus on bringing out compassion, tolerance, understanding and a feeling of collective unity. One cannot have collective unity if one ignores a vital segment of the population. We can and must do better.