In the midst of layers of snow and negative wind chill values, it is hard to deny that it is indeed winter. While this
usually means months of hibernation in an attempt to ignore the cold and hide from the many hours of darkness, this year we have something to look forward to: the 2014 Winter Olympics. Despite the snow and the nippy air, we watch hockey games with shouts of approval and dismay, we are captivated by the figure skaters, and we are enthralled by games many don’t understand (curling, anyone?).
But, the appeal of the Olympics is not found only in the athleticism and entertainment. No, the Olympics have something else: the creation of a global community. The idea that we look past religion, race, and political preferences to engage in a few weeks of friendly competition, brings us together. Unfortunately, the differing beliefs of our world’s countries are thrown into sharper contrast when lined up next to each other. The traits of the home country in particular are scrutinized and, more often than not, it seems that we don’t like what we see. China (the host in 2012) was accused of civil rights violations. The Cold War brought consecutive Olympic boycotts – first from the USA in 1980 and second from the USSR in 1984. And of course no one was quite comfortable in Berlin in 1936. 2014 is no exception. There have been several outcries against the host country, Russia, and her rulers. These protests come from a variety of places including ecologists, Circassians, and the LGBT community.
The arenas for this year’s game were built on the buffer area of the Caucuses Biosphere Reserve and the Sochi National Park, both of which are protected by UNESCO. Despite the Russian government assuming all responsibility for damage to these protected areas, some environmentalists are not appeased. Nor are they thrilled about the fact that Russia broke its “Zero Waste” pledge by dumping related construction waste into illegal landfills.
Biological sins aren’t the only ones being resurrected against Russia. The area in which Sochi is located once belonged to a group of people called the Circassians. But after the Russian-Circassian War of 1862 the land became Russia’s. However, the Circassian people regard this war as an ethnic cleansing and demand that the games be canceled or relocated unless Russia officially apologizes for this genocide. Other Circassians are more interested in their own heritage being incorporated into the games. This has been seen in past Olympics, such as the 2002 games in Salt-Lake City, in which a portion of the emblem was inspired by the weaving traditions of Utah’s Native Americans.
The largest point of opposition to the games is perhaps that of President Vladimir Putin’s recent anti-homosexual legislation. In 2013, the promotion of homosexuality to minors was banned. This law also makes it illegal to hold events celebrating gay pride or defend homosexual relations. Putin has claimed that this law was passed because the Russian people demanded it and that gay marriages in Russia would have resulted in “human casualties.” Furthermore, Putin indicated that Russia is facing a time of low birth rates and that same-sex couples do not produce children (he seems to have borrowed this argument from the leader of the host country of 1936).
Naturally the LGBT community has been up in arms about these infringements on the rights of the sexual-minority groups. The matter was only further inflamed when Sochi mayor Anatoly Pakhomov said in a Jan. 27 interview that there are no homosexuals living in the city.
The Olympic Pride House, a fixture since the games in 2010, which welcomes LGBT athletes will also be absent at this year’s events. This, partnered with the overarching homophobic legislation of the country, has caused the United States and Russian gay rights groups to call out to major sponsors, such as Coca-Cola and Samsung, to boycott the 2014 games.
Is Putin in the wrong? That’s a matter of personal opinion. Is Russia failing to uphold what the Olympics stand for – the unity of those with different beliefs and backgrounds? Again, a matter of opinion. Will the world be eagerly waiting to see what happens in Russia on the slopes, rinks, and streets? That seems to be a matter of fact.