Olympics

Russia's Gay Propaganda Law is Disturbing, But Don't Expect The Olympics To Be an Agent For Change

Russia Gay Rights Protest

Russia passed a pair of laws to marginalize the gay community. One prohibits same-sex couples from adopting. The other prohibits gay propaganda, interpreted as anything that would indicate to children gay people are normal, natural and not to be feared. The latter has sparked some controversy ahead of the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

Different Russian government ministers stated the law would and would not be enforced on the same day. There has been ample criticism of the Olympic community’s muted reaction. Some have called for boycotting the games altogether. The aims are sympathetic, though it is hard to see the international pressure doing much good.

International athletics is a money grab. Organizations such as the IOC and FIFA offer lofty rhetoric about transcending politics. What that means, in practice, is they will work with anyone, with few qualms and with minimal accountability. International sports bodies have seldom taken a political stand, on anything. Even banning South Africa over apartheid in 1964 was over a technical issue – they would not permit interracial competition – rather than the broader injustice happening in the country. Only a threatened boycott by African countries and the Soviet Union kept South Africa from being reinstated for 1968, long before apartheid ended.

FIFA not only has a World Cup in gay-fearing Russia in 2018 but another in Qatar in 2022, where gay sex itself remains illegal. How did Sepp Blatter respond to criticism? He calmly argued the world would evolve by 2022, expressed his assurance the law would not be enforced and advised gay couples to refrain from sexual activity while attending. FIFA’s overriding goals are to avoid unpleasant incidents and to hang around just long enough for the checks to clear.

Will governments take a meaningful stand? Doubtful. The EU will issue stern proclamations urging Russia not to pass such a law. That won’t lead to any rash steps, such as boycotting the games. Not a wise policy to piss off your often hostile neighbor that provides more than 30 percent of your crude oil, coal and natural gas.

That leaves the media. Based on precedent, we expect little. The sports media made few waves in China in 2008. The Chinese government lifted Internet restrictions in Beijing, eliminating a direct impediment. Sportswriters covering the event spent more time consuming dong than addressing the Falun Gong, political dissidents and Reeducation Through Labor camps.

Sports often provides an interesting microcosm for society. Rarely, outside its own mythology, has it been an active agent for social change. The increasing persecution and impingement of gay rights in Russia is repugnant. Sadly, the spectacle of the Olympics tends to whitewash over just about anything.

[Photo via Getty]

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