January 28, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013
Maybe, just maybe, on February 24th we will look back at this year’s Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia and have wonderful memories. Maybe, we will recall dazzling feats of speed on ice and snow. Snowboarders who seemed to touch the winter sky. Thrill-seeking skiers aloft for so long we were sure they’d never again touch down on land. And, maybe we’ll all be left with a spirit of peaceful sportsmanship so warm and inspiring it will melt the frozen Siberian tundra.
But the weeks leading up to this year’s Sochi Games have been dominated by topics that seem to have very little to do with sports and lot more to do with politics. And really, who wants that?
But on second thought should we be surprised at all?
Early on talk of these games has been dominated by whether, first, we should have sent a sporting delegation to participate at all and second, now that we did, are they safe and third, will our athletes, especially those known to be gay, be persecuted, arrested or worse?
Why have we been talking about persecution of gays and terrorist attacks in Sochi and not, say, Bode Miller Alpine Skiing), Shaun White (Snowboarding), Shani Davis (Speed Skiing) or Todd Lodwick (6th Winter Olympics in Nordic events)?
Well, because once the Games were awarded to Russia, and particularly Sochi, it was inevitable that the events and the athletes would quickly fade to the background, at least for now.
Sochi has passed very virulent, anti-gay laws and measures and its laws do apply (as Russian president Vladimir Putin and its Mayor have made clear) to any person in Sochi for any reason. The Mayor also recently claimed that thankfully, there were no gay residents in Sochi. Whew, my hero.
What do these ordinances cover?
Well, while the laws are somewhat ambiguous, this much is clear-Gays are not only not welcome, they are forbidden in engaging in any activity or speech that tends to encourage being gay or promotes or advances any “propaganda” that supports or even recognizes homosexuality. According to Russian officials, if any athlete or anyone else even acknowledges the existence of any person LGBT in any public forum (press conferences, interviews, internet) they can be banned from competition and/or arrested.
Wait, it gets even more draconian or um, Putinian.
Russian President Putin recently signed legislation which bans any LGBT couple from being able to adopt any Russian baby or child and allows up to a two week jail sentence for anyone who is suspected of or openly admits to being gay.
You think maybe these fun-loving Russian officials aren’t serious about enforcing these laws? Recently, two Swedish female athletes were threatened with a ban from Russia and future competition because they (gasp) had rainbow nail polished fingers which Sochi officials interpreted to mean an unacceptable support for anyone LGB or T.
So, with this rather frostier than usual climate in Sochi toward at least certain athletes, we are sending our largest Winter Olympic delegation ever to compete. The US delegation numbers 230, with several high-profile (by design) openly gay athletes and openly gay honorary members (Brian Boitano for one, Billie Jean King, for two) to no doubt send a clear, if unwelcome message to our Russian friends.
The message: We may be in your home, you may be our host, but that doesn’t mean we approve of your rules and values.
Will it make a difference? Maybe, maybe not.
Olympic Games can sometimes surprise. In 1980, then President Jimmy Carter boycotted the summer games in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. No one seemed to even pause to grieve the loss. Russia and China won more medals than ever and the Soviets stayed in Afghanistan for as long as they could stand the heat.
In 1936, there was talk we should stay home to protest Hitler and the growing suppression of human rights by his Nazi Party. We decided to attend. And what Hitler had hoped would be a glorious showcase for Aryan and Nazi supremacy turned into a glorious celebration of true, diverse athleticism.
African-American Olympian Jesse Owens dominated Hitler’s games and made Berlin his own personal playground. Four Medals later Hitler was humiliated and Owens a legend.
So, despite calls from LGBT advocates we are there and we are proud.
But are we safe?
Reports have surfaced that our FBI is working closely with Russian agents to try and hunt down suspected Al-Qada suicide bombers, nicknamed “Black Widows” as many are wives of dead insurgents who now are looking to sabotage these Games and bring terror instead of triumph to Sochi.
The US military is taking unprecedented steps now to try and protect our athletes and the estimated 10-15,000 Americans who will be attending these Games. These measures include deploying 2 warships to the Black Sea, C-17 Transport planes in Germany ready to be in Sochi with military forces, and Black-Hawk helicopters and F-14 fighter planes only minutes from Sochi airspace.
You know, if these Games get especially rough.
Meanwhile, Russian and US officials are warning American athletes to NOT wear red, White and Blue colors outside of the so-called “Ring of Steel” where the main games and Olympic village is housed for fear of terrorist attacks.
So, yes, maybe, just maybe, we will have wonderful memories of this year’s Winter Olympic Games.
I’m just not sure I have the stomach to watch.
USA. USA. USA be Safe.