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Westhem: Russia is disrupting spirit of Olympics

The Olympics is supposed to be a time when racial and international borders are ignored. Confrontations, negotiations, animosity and discontent between countries are supposed to be pushed to the wayside. Religion and politics take a backseat to something that unites us all: sports.

No matter what social or economic background one comes from, anyone can compete with anyone. Drive, dedication and passion can push an athlete farther than money can and that’s why people love to cheer for the underdog or see strong competition.

The Olympics has always been a time to unite the world by showcasing each nation’s greatest athletes in one arena with people from all walks of life either competing or spectating under the same roof.

I interviewed a friend of mine last year who competed in track and field at the 2012 London Olympics. He said that the greatest part of the experience for him was walking through the Olympic Village, hearing all of the different languages being spoken and interacting with people of different cultures in an atmosphere where the athletes and spectators were free to be who they all were and represent themselves and their nation to the world.

But now Russia is making the Olympics a political spectacle and could potentially use its position of power in hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics as a means to make a statement on gay relations, thereby jeopardizing the spirit and innate acceptance that constitute the positive culture of the Olympics.

Nice going, Russia.

I’m not going to try to understand the reasoning behind Russia’s anti-gay policies, but I would like to point out the effect that it has had on athletes around the world. Instead of spawning division, judgment and other ill feelings, it has generated solidarity among athletes around the world, including most recently at the world track and field championships in Moscow.However, is this the right kind of platform and the right time for athletes to push their support for gay rights? These athletes have dedicated their lives to preparing for this trip to the Olympics. Could politics end up jeopardizing their chances at gold? For an event that is supposed to eradicate political differences for three weeks, it would be an absolute shame if politics interrupted the integrity of the Games.

The last time that athletes had to give up the Olympic experience because political considerations couldn’t be put aside was during the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. Isn’t it telling that Russia is the root of the problem again?

It should make us, as Americans, thankful that we have the openness in our country that we do; that active athletes like Jason Collins and Brittney Griner could come out with their sexuality without harming their athletic careers. The U.S. has been at the forefront of acceptance with regards to LGBT affairs even as far back as 1981 with Billie Jean King. It’s nice that we live in a country where sports can remain sports and not become political spectacles when gay athletes are involved. Go USA.

But now that the issue of LGBT rights and athletes is being broached outside of our nation, how will the world react? What will the culture be at the Sochi Winter Olympics? Will there still be the same feeling of acceptance and national pride in the air that my friend experienced in London?

Russia recently came out with a statement to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), claiming that the anti-gay law won’t affect gay spectators and athletes. However, how are they going to feel being in a country that is openly intolerant of their sexuality? Not the welcoming atmosphere that the Olympics is supposed to promote.

Russia’s initial disapproval of gay athletes and spectators sounds eerily similar to the political environment in Germany surrounding Hitler’s 1936 Summer Olympics. Just saying.

If this keeps snowballing in the political direction that it’s taking, maybe the IOC needs to be a bit more conscientious in its decisions regarding who can host the Olympics.

Ashley Westhem is worried about the direction the Olympics is taking with regards to its core values. Send her your feedback at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Ashley Westhem

Ashley Westhem is the voice of Stanford women’s basketball for KZSU as well as The Daily’s beat writer for the team. She has been a desk editor for three volumes and plans to take over as Managing Editor of Sports next volume and aid in KZSU’s coverage of football. She is an American Studies major from Lake Tahoe, Calif., and aspires to work in sports administration, to positively affect the lives of student-athletes and the relationship between the athletic and academic spheres of universities.
  • Hm.

    If you’re interested in understanding the reasoning behind Russia’s new policies, a good place to start would be Erika’s thorough four-part series about the subject, which you can find at http://stnfrdstatic.wordpress.com/tag/erika-lynn-abigail-kreeger/ . It’s important that our conclusions (e.g. “Isn’t it telling that Russia is the root of the problem again?” and “Russia is making the Olympics a political spectacle”) be informed by histories.

    A few more things:
    -Part of the reason that athletes who have recently come out have been treated as such a big deal is that that our country isn’t all that open, when compared to other times/places and to how much better we could do. I think there’s also something to be said that, while these athletes could come out without having their careers ended, tons of queer people do not have such safety in education, employment, housing, and healthcare. For example, the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that a third of the black trans* people lost their jobs due to bias.
    -The US has not “been at the forefront of acceptance with regards to LGBT affairs” (if you meant athletes specifically, I’m not familiar enough with the history to comment on that). First, we can’t realistically evaluate countries in a vacuum (e.g. http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2013/07/25/splc-report-u-s-religious-right-groups-fanning-flames-of-anti-lgbt-hate-in-caribbean/). For example, a large portion of the countries classified as criminalizing queerness are former British colonies, and in many of these places this policy was imposed on precolonial societies that did not previously enforce a heterosexual norm. Even in countries that have increased anti-queer policies, the debate is often used by bad governments to distract their people from political and/or economic exploitation, which are often ultimately connected to US investments and political interests. Second, whether or not some select policy metric (e.g. gay marriage or gay military service, neither of which the US was at the forefront of) suggests that a country is progressive for queer people, that doesn’t directly say anything about how culture and government treat queer people. I’d recommend that you read at least the first two paragraphs of http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/report/2012/06/29/11730/the-unfair-criminalization-of-gay-and-transgender-youth/, and also http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2013/06/new_report_highlights_police_hostility_toward_transgenders.php to get some sense of this.
    -The fact is that the IOC’s Olympics historically hasn’t ignored racial and international borders, and it has been rather selective in what kinds of politics it will prohibit. Isn’t it political to choose a certain country to host (or not host) or to attend (or not attend, e.g. South Africa during apartheid) the games? Isn’t it political for the IOC to declare that they stand for peace, unity, anti-discrimination, environmental responsibility, human rights, etc.? Then the question becomes: what kinds of politics are palatable to the IOC and what kinds aren’t? What does it mean that the IOC had allowed the Nazi salute in 1936 (because it was a national salute) but banned John Carlos and Tommie Smith in 1986 for their human rights salute? What does it mean that they pressured the Australian Olympic Committee in 2012 to censure Damien Hooper when he wore a shirt with an official flag of Australia that the IOC refuses to recognize (the Australian Aboriginal Flag)? Perhaps the IOC’s core values have some fundamental contradictions.

  • Mary Waterton

    Russian parents love their children and oppose homosexuals and pedophiles. American parents are too YELLOW to protect their children. In Los Angeles, California, they are teaching homosexuality to children as young as (((5))) under the guise of “equality” training, telling them that they might have been “born gay” and need to experiment to find out for themselves. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d have to admit that Russians have better moral values than Americans.