Outrage Over an Antigay Law Does Not Spread to Olympic Officials

The New York Times
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August 7, 2013
Issues: 

The Winter Olympics begin six months from today in Sochi, Russia. Athletes find themselves in a risky situation. On the one hand, they face prosecution for advocating for gay rights. On the other, they face banishment by Olympic officials for publicly opposing Russia’s discriminatory new law.

Just as Russia now prohibits “propaganda” in support of “nontraditional” sexual orientation, the Olympic charter prohibits athletes from making political gestures during the Winter and Summer Games.

So it is entirely possible that any bobsledder or skier wearing a pin, patch or T-shirt in support of gay rights could be sent home from Sochi, not by Russian authorities, but by another group that suppresses expression: theInternational Olympic Committee.

Would the I.O.C. inflict such a public-relations disaster on itself? Perhaps not. But Olympic officials worldwide, including those in the United States, along with NBC and corporate sponsors, have put themselves and athletes in an awkward position by only tepidly opposing the Russian law that bans “homosexual propaganda.”

Blake Skjellerup, a short-track speedskater from New Zealand, has said he plans to wear a gay-pride pin in Sochi; if he gets into trouble, “so be it.” Harvey Fierstein, the playwright and actor, has called for a boycott of the Winter Games. Gay rights activists in New York and elsewhere have urged the removal of Russian vodka from bars.

But those who organize, broadcast and underwrite the Games have offered little beyond tardy and lukewarm criticism.