Comment | Thoughts on Sochi

Last Sunday, snowboarder Jenny Jones made history by winning the first British medal at a Winter Olympics. However, the Sochi games this winter haven’t only got people talking about sport, but the wider issue of gay rights in Russia, and rightfully so.

Despite being de-criminalised in 1993, 2013 saw the adoption of laws banning teaching under-18’s about homosexuality and the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. What’s more, the government are also attempting to pass a law to remove the children of single-sex parents, with the notes to the legislation reading that “harm to a child’s psyche is great if one of the parents practices sexual contact with the same sex”.  The government’s targeting of homosexuals has also given rise to various ‘vigilante’ groups such as ‘Occupy Peadophilia’ seen to be torturing and harassing gays in the graphic videos which they post on the internet.  They claim that by hunting down both gays and paedophiles that they are “killing two birds with one stone”.

It seems ignorant and misguided to allow a country with such a poor human rights record to host one of the most prestigious sporting events on the planet. In the case of Sochi, something which is supposed to showcase the best of what humanity can achieve has become a symbol of some of humanity’s worst prejudices. Despite being faced with calls from public figures such as Stephen Fry to boycott the games, most governments including our own and the USA have chosen to attend the games. I must admit that after first reading Fry’s open letter to David Cameron in which he draws similarities between Russia’s persecution of homosexuals and the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, I was convinced of his argument. I was angry that Russia was to be allowed to glorify itself with the prestige of hosting the games and agreed with Fry that anything other than a complete ban on Sochi 2014 would be tantamount to giving Putin “the approval of the civilised world”.

Then the games began, and it became clear that rather than allowing Putin to bask in a wave of nationalist glory, the Winter Olympics were instead drawing world-wide attention to the anti-gay laws. The increased media coverage of the problem in the run-up to the games has surely been valuable in the battle against homophobia in Russia. Smaller forms of protest such as that of the lesbian snowboarder Cheryl Maas have proven powerful symbols of solidarity with the gay rights movement. Maas proudly displayed her rainbow and unicorn gloves to the cameras as she qualified in the snowboarding trials. The general attitude of athletes has been to use the games as an opportunity for protest in themselves rather endorsing boycotts, an attitude that I now also support. I was persuaded by a piece by Johnny Weir, an American figure skater who also happens to be gay.  He writes “the Olympics are history, and they do not represent their host, they represent the world entire”. The international climate of protest surrounding the games has made them a symbol in the quest for greater equality, proving Weir right. Hopefully these games will prove to be an opportunity to fight back against these hateful laws and send a powerful message to the evil men behind them.

Rebecca Gray 

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