Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games: Opening Ceremony

Above: One of the Olympic rings malfunctions during Sochi's Opening Ceremony

No Olympics have ever truly gone off without a hitch, but rarely are a Games surrounded by as much controversy as those that just kicked off in Sochi.

The opening ceremony itself was a spectacular showcase of Russian history and culture, with nods to literature, art, music, architecture and industry, as well as sport. There were odes to Dostoyevsky, Malevitch, the Russian Revolution, and, strangely enough, the common musical thread of pop duo t.A.T.u.’s “Not Gonna Get Us” appeared multiple times after the Russian team’s arrival in the stadium—for those who don’t remember, t.A.T.u. gained fame for their use of erotic same-sex imagery in their music videos and performances, making it more than a little ironic that a state engaged in legislative discrimination against LGBTQ citizens would use their music.

There was one small technical glitch, reminiscent of the mechanical failure at the Vancouver Games in 2010, when only four of five giant snowflakes representing the Olympic rings opened as they were supposed to. The rest of the show went flawlessly, right up to famed Red Army hockey goaltender Vladislav Tretiak and decorated figure skater Irina Rodnina—more on her later—lit the torch and launched a torrent of fireworks.

Outside the tightly controlled proceedings, though, contention over Russia’s recently passed anti-gay laws cast a long shadow. Several athletes have expressed disappointment and disdain with Russia’s treatment of LGBTQ citizens—the most vocal has been Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, who has hinted at a possible protest after her competition is finished—while in his speech during the opening ceremony, rookie IOC President Thomas Bach emphasized the importance of “[living] together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.”

It may sound like lip service from an official trying to keep the peace during an already-trouble Games, but Bach also deserves credit for giving athletes the IOC’s blessing to speak their minds freely in spite of Russia’s laws.

Dutch snowboarder Cheryl Maas—who is married to a woman—was the first to take advantage of her opportunity to send a message to the Russian government, raising her hand and showing off a glove covered in rainbows and unicorns to cameras after a run.

Meanwhile, several Canadian cities raised rainbow flags in support of LGBTQ athletes, including Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto. Embattled mayor Rob Ford of Toronto was reportedly irked by the appearance of the rainbow flag over city hall, ordering it to be taken down and hanging a Canadian flag in his office window as a minor protest—after being pressured by other city councillors he eventually relented.

No one wants the athletes to be overshadowed by political controversy, but here’s hoping Russia’s human rights failure won’t go completely ignored throughout the Olympics.

Other Notes:

– Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, as well as Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo—who is openly gay—have both openly criticized Russia’s anti-gay policies and have declined to attend the Games

– Wayne Gretzky’s ancestry is Belarussian—who knew!? I think most of us just assumed the Gretzky clan crash-landed in Canada from outer space centuries ago and immediately invented hockey

– Germany claims its athlete uniforms aren’t a covert message of LGBTQ support, but they sure as hell don’t look much like the country’s national colours…

– The tallest Olympic flag bearer is NHLer Zdeno Chara of Slovakia, who is 6’9”

– Jamaica’s famous bobsled team—who got the biggest ovation of any non-Russian nation—appears to be the first to use crowdfunding to attend the Olympics. Take that, Zach Braff

– Irina Rodnina, who lit the Olympic torch, tweeted a super-racist picture of the Obamas last year and refused to apologize, citing her right to free speech. So racists have more rights in Russia than LGBTQ supporters? Good to know…

– Even Google made a statement on its homepage today in criticism of Russia’s anti-gay policies. “Don’t be evil” indeed

Tags: LGBT, Sochi 2014 Olympics

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