My first reaction to Russia asserting that it would be enforcing its “gay propaganda” laws during the 2014 Olympics was “What the hell are they thinking?” Aside from the cut-and-dry repugnance of the laws themselves, it was insane to think that the International Olympics Committee (IOC) would put up with its athletes or fans being arrested or harassed by Russian authorities. It’s staggering to consider the diplomacy nightmare Russia is inviting by making the pledge to prosecute visitors for being visibly gay or trans*. But hey, at least someone is on their side! Namely, the IOC. Earlier this week, the Committee announced that they would be punishing Olympians for violating Russia’s laws, in accordance with their apolitical non-agenda.
The Olympics is a time for the world to come together and play some FOOTBA– I mean, some sports, and have a friendly competition, says the IOC. It’s not the time to voice political opinions, especially against the host country. Olympic athletes aren’t permitted to make political demonstrations and are (reasonably) expected to follow the law of the host. What makes this tricky is that Russia’s law is so ludicrously unjust and unreasonable that it no longer seems reasonable for the IOC to demand its athletes follow the law. In fact, it doesn’t even seem moral. Here’s the basic gist of the law the IOC will be respecting next year: The law bans “gay propaganda” in an effort to protect the children of Russia from The Gay, and also to prevent a further drop in birth rate. Obviously this is dumb enough, but the big problem comes from the vague definition of “propaganda,” which makes it a crime to hold gay pride events, speak in defense of gay rights, or to say gay relationships are equal to heterosexual ones. In other words, gay Russians are now legally obliged to hop back into the closet or risk being punished for propagandizing.
It remains to be seen whether or not Russia will ACTUALLY enforce these laws. I don’t know enough about Russia to make an honest prediction, though let’s not forget what happened at this year’s pride parade. Likewise, it’s not clear as to what the IOC will do if (when) one of their athletes steps out of line, or when Russia takes action against them. All we have at the moment is the IOC diplomatically shutting the conversation down by citing rule 50 of their charter:
“No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
This came in response to Gay Star News asking the IOC what their plans were to “make sure the LGBT community in Russia can have a visible, proud, safe presence at the games.” The IOC answers with, essentially, “Nothing, because Russia is trying to remove gay people from their society and we don’t want to step on their toes.” Perhaps foolishly, I still have faith that the IOC is going to actually address this question at some point, but that doesn’t change the message and result of their policies. As of now, by refusing to apply the morals of more progressive nations to its host, the IOC has pledged to help Russia make gay people disappear. Their insistence that The Games stay apolitical and neutral results in the IOC siding politically with the oppressor, via silencing its own players that try to speak out. Remaining apolitical is not only an impossible goal, but an assurance that the IOC will stand on the wrong side of every human rights issue at hand.
In 1968‘s summer Olympics, two black men from America won gold and bronze in the 200m event. As their national anthem played, they raised their fists in the black power salute, not only to bring attention to the black struggle, but to claim their victory as black men.
“If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”
The IOC, so afraid to serve as a platform for a position that might ruffle some feathers, demanded that the US Olympics Committee expel Smith and Carlos. And when the USOC refused, their entire track team was threatened with a ban. USOC was “forced” to acquiesce, and the two were sent packing.
Smith and Carlos went into The Games as lesser members of an unequal society. As Olympians, and extensions of the IOC’s body, they were expected to remain quiet. They were expected not to call attention to the inequality they spent their whole lives fighting against to reach the top of that podium. But they demanded recognition. They did it anyway, and they’ll be remembered forever.
Next year, LGBTQ athletes have the same chance. Russia wants them gone, silenced, and the IOC will aid and abet that end. There’s talk of a boycott. Maybe that’d teach Russia and the Committee a lesson. But look, the Olympics are pretty awesome. The people who participate have been working basically forever to get there. It’s crazy empowering to even be part of a team in the Olympics. You’re on global broadcast. If you want to protest a country trying to silence and erase gays, why would the plan be to give them what they want? What’s better: the 2014 Olympics being lame and missing star athletes, or the 2014 Olympics being kickin’ rad, full of glory and powerful statements and unjust dismissals of players by the IOC? I know which one I’d wanna watch. I know which one would really mean something.