By SRAVANTI TEKUMALLA ’16
In the wake of recent LGBT protests in Russia, Olympic athletes making statements in support of LGBT rights has been a point of contention. The issue lies in the conflict between the International Olympic Committee’s anti-discrimination policy and Russia’s anti-gay laws. Some have advocated a boycott, arguing that it would send a clear message to Russia that the international community does not support Russia’s homophobic laws. But to boycott the Olympics would release the pressure on Russia to revoke these laws. A more effective alternative is to attend the games and allow athletes to make statements about LGBT issues. Athletes speaking out in conjunction with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) against homophobic laws can leverage the Olympics as an opportunity to condemn Russia’s oppressive legislation and send a clear message to the international community that homophobia cannot be tolerated.
The Olympics provide a world stage, not only for the athletic community, but for the international community at large. As such, it is the responsibility of the International Olympic Committee to establish policies that clearly condone anti-discrimination laws. While it is not the place of the IOC to influence or protest the host country’s policies, it is its responsibility to protect the rights of the athletes participating and to confront the fact that Russia’s anti-gay laws violate the Olympic Charter.
Recently, the U.S. Olympic Committee added protection for American athletes participating in the Olympics by enacting a policy that explicitly bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. This action stems from the United States’ opposition to the Russian law, but also from realizing that the Olympics is not a platform for political change. The IOC should follow the U.S. Olympic Committee’s lead to make it clear that by continuing to host the Olympics in Sochi, it is not supporting homophobic legislation. Such action is crucial not only for Russia’s LGBT community, but other countries which still enforce oppressive anti-LGBT legislation.
It also bears noting that the United States has taken the lead on this issue while still maintaining many anti-LGBT policies of its own. With the addition of New Jersey on Monday, only 14 states allow same-sex marriage, and there is still no federal legislation that protects LGBT individuals from employment discrimination. It would be wise of the United States to recognize the hypocrisy of advocating LGBT rights in the Olympics and the potential backlash they could receive from Russia as well as the IOC.
While political protests are prohibited under Russia’s anti-gay laws, athletes should still be allowed to make statements on LGBT rights and express their identities. The world community is keeping an eye on Russia in the coming months, allowing athletes to advocate LGBT rights and rally for the support of fellow athletes and fans. With amassed support from spectators and athletes alike, the Olympics can make an impression without any drastic action or protest. Peaceful support in the form of wearing symbolic clothing—such as rainbow-colored gear, which the Russian government vehemently opposes—can also be constructive.
The Russian administration will most likely not revoke its anti-LGBT legislation in time for the Sochi Olympics. While the Olympics bring a lot of attention to Russian politics, the Olympic community can be a force for change with regard to political legislation. Since rights are being threatened, it is necessary for the Olympic community to apply pressure to Russia through statements and peaceful signs of support in order to ensure that its legislation is in accordance with the Olympic Charter.