Photo from The National Post.What are we going to do about Sochi 2014? Boycott? Protest? Move them to Vancouver? (No thanks! We had our turn.) Ban Russia from competing? Personally, I think the last option would be the funniest. I imagine Putin rolling up to the gates in style and security telling Volodya that unfortunately Russian passports are not allowed to enter the premises. However, this would probably never happen and this type of ban would harm the athletes more than it would effect Putin. Patrick Burke of the You Can Play Project argues
in an ideal world, the Olympics are supposed to be apolitical. That in ancient times, warring nations would put aside their weapons, their feuds, and their ideological differences in order to celebrate the unifying nature of sport. That the inherent beauty of athletes from around the world putting aside everything except talent and competing on a grand scale for personal and national pride is sacrosanct – and no political issue, no matter how jarring, offensive, or downright inhumane it may be supersedes that ideal. (Buzz Feed)
To that I ask Patrick, where were the women of the original games in 776 B.C.? Ah, that’s right. Women weren’t allowed to participate until the Paris games in 1900. And who dominates the Olympic podiums? The same countries that pretty much dominate the world economically, you say? What a ‘coincidence’. So let’s stop pretending that the Olympics was founded on an apolitical agenda because the politics of the time didn’t even consider women worthy of consideration! The Olympics were statements of political dominance then just as they are now.
Russia is allowed to have whatever laws it pleases, for the most part. That’s the point of sovereignty. No one has to agree with those laws but we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t really give a F*$@ about what the world thinks either. I don’t really think that Russia is to blame for this whole debacle; I think we should be pointing the finger at the IOC. It is the IOC’s job to vet potential host cities to make sure that they are not only economically suitable but also socially. It is their job to find a host that represents the ideals that they want to put forward, rather than choose the highest bidder or the city with the best night life. Russia’s anti-gay law may be newly imposed but that doesn’t mean that the culture of hate is new. Russia is and continues to be a ‘traditional’ nation that has been slow to progress on issues of immigration, sexuality, and disability etc. Therefore, to choose a host city and country that neither welcomes LGBTQ athletes or has the physical infrastructure in place to accommodate Paralympians should bring into question the accountability of the IOC. Some cities might use the Olympics (and other mega-events) to catalyze themselves into a more progressive state in order to be seen as part of the ‘world stage’ but unless certain expectations are made explicit in the host agreement the IOC has created both the rock and the hard place.
So if we can agree that the Olympics has and always will be a site of political tension then let’s use it to our advantage. I think sport has been a more powerful vehicle of politics than it has at abstaining from such discussions. Every game and event represents labour relations, statements about class, gender relations, nationality, issues of race and sexuality, displays of physical ability versus disability. And what are those historic moments that we bring up time and time again? Championships are only remembered by the winning and losing parties but the stories that are passed from generation to generation are the stories of Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes”, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ salute to Black Power, the 1995 Rugby World Cup that followed the fall of South Africa’s apartheid, Oscar Pistorius’ ability to compete with and against “able-bodied” athletes (let’s just look at Pistorius the athlete…). These are defining moments where sport has used its inherent political tensions to its advantage. They are examples of “hey, you don’t want me to play? You don’t think I’m equal? Well, what do you think of me now?” Yes, sport often exacerbates racial, ethnic and nationalistic tensions etc. Yet, I think sport proves its worth and excels not when it shies away from political discussions but when it embraces them. So my advice for the IOC and the athletes and fans of the Sochi Olympics would be to embrace Russia and it’s anti-gay laws. Let’s give Putin and his comrades the gayest Olympics he’s ever seen. To steal a line from Remember the Titans: Let’s make sure they remember, forever, when human rights knocked on Sochi’s door. Let’s “leave no doubt” that hatred and discrimination may win battles but will always lose the war against equality. Let’s show them what their future looks like. They can’t throw everyone in jail, can they?