Olympic Controversies Continue

As the 2014 Olympic Winter Games approaches the city of Sochi, Russia, anticipation looms not only over the potential results within the veritable selection of sports, but over the safety of its participants and crowd-goers.  Threats range from acts of terrorism, to the downplaying of any homosexual identities within the Games’ participants. In particular, the latter has spawned massive controversy across, not just Russia, but Olympic benefactors such as the United States. Said controversy has its roots in a new law signed last summer by Russian president Vladimir Putin, of which bans the promotion of “gay propaganda” for the sake of shielding children from homosexual acts. With all eyes on the Olympic host country, many athletes identifying as homosexual fear they will be publicly persecuted.

Homosexuality has always been a deeply troubled subject in Russia, as publically maintaining a gay lifestyle was once officially considered to be a criminal act. While that law has long since been discarded, many Russians feel the long-standing discrimination against homosexuals has led to what they suspect to be a law that is purposefully vague about homosexuality promotion, such as gay pride parades and public displays of affection. Worsening the confusion are comments from famed Russians political leaders, of whom claim violent attacks against homosexuals are fabricated and claim that homosexual people don’t exist within cities such as Sochi. With the presence of the new law, homosexual athletes have gone public in sharing their fears of participation, as they feel this vagueness will result in arrests and discrimination.

Politician Vitaly Milonov, who co-sponsored the new bill, has publicly addressed these concerns through stating “an athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi, but if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”

Many pro-LGBT foreign countries have joined in the battle. Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird stated, “This mean-spirited and hateful law will affect all Russians 365 days of the year, every year. It is an incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence.” Many within the United States and even Russia have called for various boycotts of the Olympics—ranging from not supplying vodka to an outright refusal to participate—but even critics of Russia’s attitude towards homosexuals dismiss the idea.

New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup is openly gay, yet he disagrees with the boycott. Skjellerup states,“I and the other athletes have worked very, very hard, and to have that taken away from [us] would be truly devastating.” Regardless, he plans to wear a LGBT pride pin, even at the risk of his disbarment from the games, as he perceives his presence–as well as the participation of other open homosexuals–to be important in bringing the community together.


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