The Olympics & social justice

sochi-lgbt-2-01Winter is getting old. The novel appeal of November snow is gone, the holidays are long past and its now getting to that point where frustration with the season turns to icy, bitter hate for it. Its during this time that we begin to truly hibernate, paying attention only the latest fad or television event. Many tuned in for the Grammys, which were pretty much the same as always: baffling results, with the occasional surprisingly impressive performance. More recently, the lamest Superbowl in recent memory aired, doing little to distract anyone from the constant cycle of slush and ice on the street.

Fortunately for all the seasonal hermits out there, the single largest winter-focused televised event will begin soon: the Winter Olympics.

Every four years the Winter Olympics return to remind everyone that while this is a big world, our countries are not too big to put aside their differences for some healthy competition. For me, they remind me that I haven’t watched Cool Runnings recently enough. Really, I don’t see the Olympics as anything more than a colossal amount of money spent to try to be better than other countries at things that don’t matter. Let me be clear: I’m not saying that unity, camaraderie, sportsmanship, etc. doesn’t matter. I’m saying that finding out which country’s athlete can run the fastest or highest jump the doesn’t matter.

What’s more, when you consider that the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics will cost Russia $50 billion, it becomes a little perplexing. Keep in mind, that is only the cost to Russia, and possibly just for the facilities in Sochi. That $50 billion price tag doesn’t cover the money that went into training their athletes, nor does it address the money spent by each country in attendance for their own promotional campaigns, training, transportation, etc.

Ever since I was old enough to understand what was promotional hype and national pride I’ve seen the Olympics as little more than the most expensive and most boring show and tell I’ve ever heard of. You can’t argue that it’s an inordinately large amount of money; you can argue as to the competitive benefit of the games themselves, but I’d never understand spending the money on that instead of something more important. Say, providing clean water to the entire world (although estimates vary, it would cost approximately $10 billion – $30 billion each year).

However, recent controversy surrounding the coming Sochi Winter Olympics have caused me to reconsider my position on the matter. Approximately seven months ago, during the mounting excitement and preparation for the event, it became clear that the Russian government’s homophobic laws would apply to anyone visiting the country during the Olympics. The law, signed by Russia’s President Vladamir Putin last July, prohibits any kind of pro-gay “propaganda” that may be accessible to children, which can technically include any actions taken by citizens which promote homosexual culture and lifestyle.

This has obviously caused a lot of tension between Russia and incoming athletes and spectators. US President Barack Obama is not attending the Olympics, and in his place he is sending a delegation including openly gay athletes. Protestors have been active for months, recently turning their attention to Sochi sponsors in hopes that they would condemn the law.

At the moment, nothing is guaranteed, as it is still unclear whether or not the law will be aggressively enforced in the face of such opposition. While I would prefer none of this to be an issue at the moment, I, for the first time in years, am looking forward to the Olympics. If nothing else, this gathering of cultures will see a conflict, and hopefully a proper resolution. In this instance, the Olympics, in bringing everyone together, may actually force them to see their differences. Although not ideal for openly gay athletes and spectators, its worth noting that this would not have seen nearly as much press coverage if it had not been for the Olympics.

Though it may not be the most popular opinion, I’m thankful for the Olympics this year because they will force the Russian government to at least face the consequences of their action, as thousands of international guests show up to support not just their country, but also the oppressed homosexual community within the country.

-Tim Stacey

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