Our Decision To Cover The 2014 Winter Olympics

Above: The 2014 Sochi Olympic logo unveiled on Red Square

The 22nd Winter Olympics start this week and AmongMen has been gearing up to provide you with daily coverage of the Sochi Games.

Controversy has surrounded the Games for months. Frenzied headlines criticizing Russia have continued to appear (rightfully so) since Russian legislators enacted laws last summer that ban the distribution of any “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. The passing of this anti-gay propaganda law effectively made it illegal to suggest that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships or to distribute any material on gay rights. A surge of hate crimes (most targeting LGBT youth) motivated by homophobia and the arrest of numerous gay rights activists followed. Disturbing videos showing Russian neo-Nazi groups allegedly luring and torturing gay teens began to pop up on YouTube. In July 2013, a passionately penned proclamation from legendary playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein in the New York Times called for the International Olympic Committee to pull out of the country if the laws aren’t changed, which was followed by echoing global protests.

This must change. With Russia about to hold the Winter Games in Sochi, the country is open to pressure. American and world leaders must speak out against Mr. Putin’s attacks and the violence they foster. The Olympic Committee must demand the retraction of these laws under threat of boycott. – Harvey Fierstein

Preparations for the Games continued.

There were reports of the IOC pressuring the Russian government on the newly implemented laws, followed by an assurance that the controversial legislation would not affect gay athletes or visitors attending the upcoming Games. In fact, in August 2013 the IOC received written assurance from the Russian government that they would abide by the Olympic Charter during the Games, which forbids political protest against athletes who make displays of support for the LGBT community.

There’s no guarantee that Russian president Vladimir Putin won’t go back on his word, and these incidents of homophobia and blatant violations of basic human rights instigated cannot be forgotten while watching as Olympians strive for gold. Putin may be attempting to project a softer image leading up to the games, but what does that really change? Any social injustice that took place on Russian soil before, during or after the Games must be considered while we watch and discuss them.

Of course, Russia’s homophobic legislation hasn’t been the only controversy surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Questions about the country’s readiness to host 6,000 athletes from 87 countries and tens of thousands of spectators have been ongoing and the 2014 Winter Olympics has been plagued with concerns of security and terrorism, complaints of unfinished hotel rooms for journalists, torch relay mishaps, reports of mass killing of stray dogs and major concerns surrounding the construction of the Olympic infrastructure in and around Sochi, which cost some $50 billion (nearly five times that of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics).

It’s fair to say that Putin has dreamed of bringing the Games back to Russia for two decades and has ultimately staked his legacy on their success. With his country under scrutiny and in the global spotlight, Putin has promised a safe Olympics (for everyone) without imposing intrusive security measures.

And so with international attention focused squarely on Sochi, the Games will proceed.

It is true that the Olympics have long been affected by social and cultural issues of the day, but Sochi’s Olympics seem to have reached new heights of controversy and potential violations of basic human rights. So it comes down to one question. Should publishers such as AmongMen.com and Olympic fans boycott the Games? No, says Hilary Homes, a campaigner for Amnesty International Canada. “The same spotlight that shines on the spectacle of the Olympic Games also highlights the successes and failings of the host country,” she recently told The Globe and Mail. “This is an opportunity to raise awareness, dialogue and advocacy that might not be there otherwise.”

I can assure you that the decision to go forward with our Sochi coverage on AmongMen was not made lightly and it has been met with both understanding and opposition. Personally, as an Olympic watcher the question of support has become an ethical debate. But, ultimately we have decided to honour the young Canadian athletes and cheer on their achievements while supporting brave Russian human rights defenders. Throughout the 2014 Winter Games we hope to highlight the efforts of these remarkable athletes who have spent much of their lives preparing to compete and while the world is watching we hope that the Olympic spirit wins out.

Tags: Olympics, The Editor’s Blog

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