Beyond the News
The Russian government has just implemented a new law that prohibits any “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors” and besides the reaction of some global human rights institutes in this regards, it also caused a stir in the world of sports. After the new rule was lifted, there were rumors that some athletes and even companies could boycott the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, next year, and the Football World Cup in 2018.
In the meantime, for the last 2 weeks, Moscow has been hosting the Athletics World Championships and some of the competitors discussed the issue at the event. Two women athletes painted their nails with the rainbow flag that characterizes the gay symbol and others made statements before and after their performances against the law.
But the “bomb” exploded with the comments of Yelena Isinbayeva, the pole vault record holder and one of sports heroes in the country. She said that others should not get involved with this issue and that Russian laws must be respected, especially if you are a guest there. Isinbayeva went even further to say that “we consider ourselves like normal, standard people” and finalized saying “we never had any problems, these problems in Russia, and we don’t want to have any in the future”.
So, accordingly to Isinbayeva gay people are not normal and having gays on the streets is a problem that must be avoided, a view that certainly reflects the thinking of most people in her country. But, to say that we all have to respect that and leave it on the side is perhaps a mistake.
Never in human history gay rights have been so broadly discussed as it has been for the last 10 years, and right now, when the entire world is paying attention to Russia as the nation will host 2 major sports events, the local government implements a law that goes totally against what the entire world is doing.
Ok, they do not have to do what others do, but this issue is far to be an internal issue. It is about human rights, what actually concerns the entire world! Gays are normal people, just like any Russian man and woman, and the only thing that could be a problem in a nation where there are gays on the streets is prejudice and harassment from homophobic people! But this is another story. Now, the reality is that the Olympic Games will have to take place under this heavy, unnecessary and negative environment.
This case takes me back to 2008 when China hosted the Olympic Games and the protests for a free-Tibet got stronger. I was in Canberra, Australia, covering the Olympic Torch Relay and witnessed hundreds of people attending the event to make their point in favor of Tibet. It in certain way impacted negatively the Chinese public relations in the Games.
Eventually, the Olympic International Committee (COI) had to intervene and ask athletes to not take this issue into the events and that any protest could lead to a penalization. The questions now are: with COI stands strictly against any type of harassment, including related to sexual orientation, how will the Committee handle potential protests from athletes and audience in Sochi? And how this new law will impact the public relations of Sochi 2014 worldwide? The Winter Olympic Games is actually getting hot!