Russia and the International Olympic Committee are turning to each other for help in battling a “campaign” against and “speculation” about the anti-gay law that bans “homosexual propaganda” and has driven protests against the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which open in less than six months. A top IOC official told media Monday that sponsors, particularly those based in the United States, are worried about the law, raising concerns at the IOC that some could pull out of partnerships before the Games begin. The Russians, meanwhile, are equally worried ahead of a sporting event that is supposed to showcase the country.
“I think this could ruin a lot for all of us,” Gerhard Heiberg, the IOC’s marketing commission chairman, said, according to the Associated Press. “We have to be prepared.”
Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of Sochi’s organizing committee, told the AP that the law has been misconstrued by activists. Russia does not ban homosexuality, he said, and asserted again that Olympic athletes, fans, and media would not be subject to the law. That’s good enough for the IOC, apparently.
“The constitution of the Russian federations allows for homosexuality,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said. “And we have received strong reassurances that this law will not affect participants in the Sochi Games.”
The new law bans the promotion of any “nontraditional” sexual activity and is aimed primarily at the LGBT community. Russia has already deported filmmakers who were making a documentary about the law and has arrested marchers at pride parades across the country, many of whom have been subjected to brutal beatings from police and anti-gay activists. Russian websites now contain disclaimers above articles about homosexuality and LGBT issues warning that the content may not be appropriate for children. It may “allow” homosexuality, but it certainly isn’t tolerant of it.
President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have criticized it openly, as have a growing list of prominent Olympic athletes from countries with far more tolerant laws. And the IOC’s “assurances” remain unclear, considering the sponsors of the Russian law and other government officials have said it would go into effect during the Games. The IOC has also put more weight behind warning athletes not to protest during the Games, lest they violate Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, than it has behind upholding the part of the Charter that calls for tolerance.
So what we’ve got here are what would seem to be the strangest of bedfellows, a government that wants to uphold an intolerant law and the support of a sporting organization whose own mission statement calls on it to promote tolerance and understanding of all kinds of people. But when promoting and putting on a successful, money-making Olympic spectacle is the primary goal of both, and when upholding basic rights could “ruin” that, deciding which to sacrifice becomes an easy choice to make.