Russia’s downhill Olympics

This month the 2014 Winter Olympics kicked off in one of the most anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic countries in the world. For the past year, there have been numerous reports of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Russians being raped, kidnapped and tortured for their sexual orientation. Yet their country has been allowed to host the Winter Olympics, an event that—despite its competitive focus—is supposed to be a celebration of unity.

What are the human rights violations in Russia? The hate crimes that have been reported to human-rights organizations range from gays being raped with baseball bats, forced to drink urine, and tortured with electric shocks to public beatings. In this environment, perpetrators have even bragged about what they have done on social media pages, and the Russian police and Russian political leaders have done nothing. Some of them have exacerbated the situation by furthering hateful stereotypes about gays and lesbians.

The Olympics’ purpose since its creation was to unite people. The Greeks, having the initial idea for the Games, sought out citizens of the various Greek city-states to compete in sports. These games were a representation of friendship and unity, serving to promote peace and understanding among its people. That was 776 BCE. Thousands of years later, the Olympic Committee has damaged the event’s reputation by allowing Russia to host the Winter Games.

Unfortunately this is not the first time a country with discriminative laws has hosted the games. In 1936, Germany had similar issues going on in Russia today: anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism. During those Olympics, Hitler showed how much of a racist he was by not shaking the hand of gold medal-winning African-American sprinter Jesse Owens. The world watched, and did nothing, similar to today’s ambivalent response to Russia’s hosting the Games.

Just as having the Olympics in Germany in the 1930s legitimized Hitler’s policies, granting the Olympics to Russian President Vladimir Putin, endorsed his country’s abuse towards the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community. A few people are doing something to protest. Albert Leatherman, a gay political activist living in Brazil, led a petition against the New York Stock Exchange for promoting investment in Russia ahead of the Olympics. Leatherman states in the petition, “Until Russia ends its brutal crackdown on LGBT people—including officially sanctioned kidnapping, torture, and rape of gay youth and severe laws prohibiting any expression of support for LGBT rights—Russia must be challenged, not financially supported.” Yet, through official sponsorships, corporations like Coca Cola and Visa give their tacit support the Winter Olympics and, by extension, the Putin regime.

The Olympic Committee should never allow countries that allow human-rights violations to host the Summer or Winter Games. However, it is also a shame that certain multinational companies still choose to sponsor the Olympics when countries like Russia are hosts to hate, instead of being purveyors of peace.