After weeks of controversy, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, a short balding man with sharp features, delivered a stern message to homosexual athletes around the world. Come to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, he said, but do not “propagandize.” In other words, come and compete on Russian soil, but pretend to be straight while doing it.
As a supporter of the U.S. Olympic team and an outspoken advocate of gay rights, I was disturbed by Mutko’s statement. Even more disturbing, however, has been the international response to Russia’s insistence on enforcing its discriminatory policies during the Olympics.
As a nation that claims to be a staunch supporter of human rights, the U.S. has a responsibility to take a stand. The U.S. has a responsibility to boycott the 2014 Soshi Winter Olympics. Before jumping in to an explanation of why a boycott is necessary, it is important to understand Russia’s current laws regarding homosexuality. Earlier this year, at the behest of President Vladimir Putin, new legislation was put in place make it illegal for anyone to publicly support gay rights or acknowledge a homosexual orientation.
While it was initially unclear whether Russia would enforce its laws against foreign nationals during the winter Olympics, recent statements by Russian authorities have put all speculation to rest. Openly homosexual athletes will be persecuted, openly homosexual fans will be persecuted and sexual discrimination will reign in Soshi.
Even though Russia’s laws pose grave threats to homosexual athletes and fans, the international governing bodies have remained relatively silent regarding the legislation.
Hiding behind an Olympic charter provision that prohibits political demonstrations at Olympic sites, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) weakly proclaimed that international athletes would be safe.
Similarly, U.S. power brokers have said next to nothing. The U.S. Olympic Committee has yet to issue a statement. A small group of U.S. Congressmen penned a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the State Department to “assure the safety and well-being of [homosexual athletes] ... attending the Olympic games.” And Barack Obama provided a weak statement saying that he hoped homosexual athletes could bring home some medals.
Personally, I find the IOC’s silence and the U.S.’s statements regarding Russian laws sickening. How can the IOC, which governs an event that plays host to multiple homosexual Olympians, remain silent? How can the U.S., as a supposed leader when it comes to human rights, take such a soft stance as homosexuals are persecuted abroad?
Ultimately, the only way to ensure that Russia’s laws will not be enforced on U.S. athletes and fans is for the U.S. to boycott the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Sochi. While a boycott may seem like a radical response, consider the following scenario. Imagine if a host-nation threatened to persecute openly Christian athletes. Would a boycott be in order?
What this really comes down to is the necessity of standing up for individual freedoms, the necessity of standing up for individual rights. In the same way that religious intolerance cannot be tolerated, intolerance of different sexual orientations must be opposed. As a nation, the U.S. must take a stand. If Russia insists on implementing its discriminatory policies, the U.S. must insist on boycotting the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.