Ever since the site of the next Winter Olympics was settled, fury has filled the Internet, and with good reason.
Russia has determinedly passed law after law targeting its homosexual community for discrimination, oppression, and flat-out violence. As of this writing, homosexual acts put people in prison in Russia and any kind of political statement or advocacy that could be construed as suggesting that gay people are in any way an acceptable part of Russian society, including simply existing as an out homosexual or being outed, is illegal. So important is renewing its longstanding alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church and maintaining its authoritarian traditions that Russia has effectively made discussing its discrimination against homosexuals illegal. Add in a police force so famously corrupt that thousands of Russian drivers keep dashboard cameras to document their accidents and the abuse they receive, and the stage is set for crimes against gay people to “mysteriously” go unpunished, and for incitements to violence to come from high offices and pulpits. One famous set of critics of the Russian Orthodox Church has already faced heavy reprisal; more will follow.
Russia has not been friendly to gay people since at least the time of the Russian Revolution, whether it declared homosexuality a capitalist degeneracy to be extirpated or a crime against God. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this bigotry has asserted itself with vigor that similar monsters in the United States could only fantasize about, and which is met only with the vigor that similar policies receive in sub-Saharan Africa and Islamist theocracies.
All of this was happening as the International Olympic Committee deliberated in 2007 to determine which world city would be the site of the 2014 Winter Games, and it has continued in the time since the Committee decided to put the 2014 games in Russia and the 2018 games in South Korea.
These are far from the first Olympic Games to face controversy. Games were held in almost-half-of-homeless-youth-are-gay Utah, the Soviet Union, Communist China, and most famously Nazi Germany. Every one of these places exists in stark violation of the Olympic Movement’s stated philosophy. None of those sites is compatible with the Olympic Movement’s exhortations toward “social responsibility,” “respect for universal fundamental ethical principles,” “the harmonious development of humankind,” or “the preservation of human dignity.” Hilariously, the following command gets its own numbered point in the Fundamental Principles of Olympism (page 10):
“Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement”
Don’t forget: 1936. Berlin. Nazi Fucking Germany.
So when it comes to not offering the honor of hosting the world’s preeminent athletic event in places determined to do evil to humankind…the International Olympic Committee has a pathetic track record. I have no expectation that the IOC will move the Olympics from the Russian Federation, which is just as well—even stereotypically level-headed nations like Canada and Sweden hide disturbingly recent atrocities behind their polite, industrious facades. The “world” event that is the Olympic Games would have a VERY short list of potential sites if it limited itself to places with even moderately clean human rights records, and they know this. Being chosen as the site of an Olympic event is, in practice, little more than recognition that a country has the resources to build a gigantic facility in which the Games will transpire and the infrastructure necessary to support said facility.
Even this jaded writer, however, is aghast at the OTHER crime the International Olympic Committee managed to “overlook” in choosing the site of the 2014 Winter Games.
The IOC didn’t pick just any city in Russia. The IOC decided on Sochi.