Less than seven months before the 2014 Winter Olympics will kick off in Sochi, Russia, the country has deported four Dutch tourists for violating its new anti-gay law that bans “homosexual propaganda.” The tourists were filming a documentary about the law, which Russian president Vladimir Putin signed in June. They were fined and banned from Russia for three years.
The deportations should be a wake-up call to the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, ahead of the Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup that Russia will also host, since they could paint a picture of what LGBT athletes and fans may face during both events. And it isn’t just deportations and fines. Those fans and athletes could also face violence from anti-gay activists, much as gay rights supporters have during marches and pride events across the country. These two photos from a larger BuzzFeed piece are just a sampling of Russia’s violent responses to gay rights proponents:
FIFA and the IOC have both remained largely silent about the law — FIFA’s president even made an ill-conceived joke about gay sex when talking about potential problems for LGBT athletes and fans in Russia and Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup. The IOC broke its silence in July, issuing a statement that declared its opposition to the law. “The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation,” the IOC said in the statement. “The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle.”
But this isn’t just about sports. The Olympic Mission is to “link sport with culture and education” and “help to build a better world through sport practised in a spirit of peace, excellence, friendship and respect.” Russia’s anti-gay law doesn’t mesh with that or the IOC’s ideals of sports that are “open to all, free of discrimination.” And merely suspending the law or protecting athletes and fans during competition isn’t enough, because it will exist after the Olympics and World Cup are through. If the IOC wants to uphold its mission, it’s time for it and the Olympic committees in countries that value human rights, including the United States, to stop saying they oppose the law and start demonstrating their ideals with real action. Otherwise, their events will be failures, regardless of the successes achieved on the field.