Last week, actor George Takei wrote on his blog: “the IOC [International Olympic Committee] must do the right thing, protect its athletes and the fans, and move the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Russia.”
Supplanting the games is a major step that should not be taken lightly. However, recent events have made it clear that Takei is correct — Russia is an unsuitable and unstable nation that is unqualified to host a major world event. No country is perfect, but when Russia was awarded the Games in 2007, few people knew its warts were actually tumors.
Instead of seeking emergency assistance to get healthy six months before the Big Event, Russia defiantly turned its radiation treatment on its critics, and poisoned the atmosphere. In the run-up to the Olympics, everyone is talking about how Russia has gone downhill, and no one is talking about downhill skiing. At this juncture, no diplomacy can save this patient, and it seems each day there is a new scandal.
In yesterday’s New York Times, readers were greeted by the headline, “Gays in Russia Find No Haven, Despite Support From the West.” Today’s horrible headline in the same newspaper is, “Russia Steps Up Raids Against Migrants.” According to the story:
“Everything about this massive sweep violates Russia’s obligations under international law,” said Tanya Lokshina, Human Rights Watch’s director in Russia.
It seems that no group that doesn’t resemble skinheads is safe in this festering wound of a country. In such an environment, it is insane for advertisers to spend millions of dollars on risky games that could easily tarnish – if not destroy — their brand.
For me, the final straw, in terms of wanting to move the Olympics, came on Monday when I heard the statement from Russia’s Interior Ministry, which controls the police force.
“The law enforcement agencies can have no qualms with people who harbor a nontraditional sexual orientation and do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors], do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully.”
The head of Russia’s National Olympic Committee Alexander Zhukov also made it clear that LGBT people and their allies were in jeopardy.
“If a person does not put across his views in the presence of children, no measures against him can be taken.”
What this police state demands is that athletes and spectators surrender their liberty, free speech, and their dignity to adhere to Russians unjust, totalitarian laws. It is insisting that openly gay people go back in the closet. For LGBT individuals (or some straight people) who can’t easily “pass” or simply appear to be gay – the security forces are mandating that they play straight to fit in. Essentially, Russia is forcing them to consciously adjust they way they walk, talk, and act, or possibly face charges or the wrath of neo-Nazi hooligans.
This is asking far too much from these individuals and their countries, while deliberately undermining the Olympic spirit. It is time for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to act decisively and pull the plug on this travesty before it spirals further out of control.
As an athlete, I am sympathetic to the argument that the participants have trained their entire lives for this big moment. However, the Olympics are allegedly about world unity and doing what is best for mankind. Surely, for the cause of human rights, these athletes can wait until 2014, if necessary, for the Games to be moved to a civilized country.
It is even difficult to understand why Russia still wants to host the Games. This fiasco is a public relations disaster and Mother Russia is coming across as a big, dumb, stupid bear that hasn’t succeeded since Sputnik.
At best, Russia appears to be a passive aggressive nation with an identity crisis. It violently jerks back and forth between narcissistic grandiosity and a debilitating inferiority complex. The nation wants to be viewed as an international player, which is wildly incongruent with its erratic behavior on the global stage. It desperately seeks the West’s approval, but defines itself by gleefully bashing the West. It positions itself as modern, but comes across as medieval. It flexes its flabby muscles hoping to be perceived as powerful, but all the world sees are cowardly Russian thugs picking on the powerless.
There is no easy fix, and the number of negative stories will keep growing. Compounding the situation is Russia’s attitude problem, with exasperated officials becoming increasingly tactless and testy, as it prepares to face its big Olympic test. Russia clearly doesn’t have its act together, so it’s time to move the big show before it’s too late.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”