NYT: IOC may ban Olympic athletes who stand up to Russian homophobia

A scathing news story from the New York Times‘ Jeré Longman about the fecklessness of the International Olympic Committee, and the US Olympic Committee, in the face of Russian threats to arrest gay, and gay-friendly, Olympic athletes and guests at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Longman reports that not only did the IOC not lift a finger to pressure the Russians to lay off their gay-bashing, but the US Olympic Committee in a recent letter published by Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed sounded like it was more concerned about competing than human rights:

“While we strongly support equal rights for all, our mission is sustained competitive excellence and our focus will be to deliver a well prepared team and to put our athletes in a position to be the best they can be.”

Why add that in a letter purportedly expressing concern about the safety of our athletes?  That’s the equivalent of the infamous “yes, but.”

©Ken Kidd.

Things are so bad in Russia that the Associated Press just reported that President Obama is canceling plans to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin next month in Moscow during the G20 summit.  Why? Because of Edward Snowden, but also because of US “human rights” concerns, aka gay rights in Russia, an administration official just confirmed to me.

What’s more, the International Olympic Committee may punish gay athletes who stand up to Russia’s attempts to – wait for it – punish gay athletes. That could pose problems for athletes like New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup, who has pledged to wear a rainbow pin at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a move that is illegal under Russian law.

Blake-Skjellerup

Of course, even more troublesome, if the IOC punishes Olympic athletes for wearing rainbow pins – which aren’t really political at all, the pin simply means you’re gay, which is no different than saying you’re black, or you’re Jewish – then the IOC will be agreeing, and enforcing, Russia’s perverse new law which states that anything that isn’t anti-gay is “pro-gay.”

The IOC will quite literally become an arm of the authoritarian Russian state, enforcing Russian law, and thus violating its own charter’s commitment to human rights, since the IOC will be agreeing that human rights are political, and politics are banned from the Olympics, thus human rights are banned.

I may not be explaining this clearly enough.  Russia says that if Blake Skjellerup appears on television with his boyfriend, just as all Olympians have their families at the Games with them, then Skellerup is committing an illegal political act. Will the Olympics be kicking Skjellerup, or any other gay athlete, out of the games if they appear in public with their spouses, since the host country clearly defines those acts are political, and politics are banned per the IOC?

And if the IOC refuses to let gay Olympic athletes, and guests, be arrested by the Russian authorities for simply appearing in public with their spouses, then the IOC will itself be acting “politically,” in violation of its own charter – since the IOC tells us that standing up to Russia’s law is banned political activity.

Thus, under the IOC’s own logic, not only must the International Olympic Committee not interfere with Russia’s efforts to arrest gay Olympics, the IOC must actively work with the Russians to commit gross violations of human rights against its own Olympians.

Still not sounding like 1936?

Here’s the NYT:

Olympic officials worldwide, including those in the United States, along with NBC and corporate sponsors, have put themselves and athletes in an awkward position by only tepidly opposing the Russian law that bans “homosexual propaganda.”….
[T]hose who organize, broadcast and underwrite the Games have offered little beyond tardy and lukewarm criticism.

The Olympic charter calls sport a human right that should be practiced “without discrimination of any kind.” But all the indignation the I.O.C. could muster about Russia’s new antigay law was a statement saying the Olympic Committee would “oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle.”

Just as the I.O.C. said it had received assurances that the law would not be enforced at the Sochi Games, Russia’s sports minister said that it would be.

The Times didn’t have much of anything nice to say about the US Olympic Committee either, even though the Russian actions are a direct violation of the Olympic charter. More from the Times (including that earlier quote):

The United States Olympic Committee could have joined with Olympic committees from other nations and said they would not tolerate such a discriminatory law.

But that did not happen. And American officials decided not to speak out unilaterally. Scott Blackmun, the U.S.O.C.’s chief executive, sent a note to American Olympic officials saying, “While we strongly support equal rights for all, our mission is sustained competitive excellence” and not political advocacy.

The Times also notes that McDonald’s and Coke, two of the big corporate sponsors of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have remained mute about Russia’s violent crackdown, even though the Russian actions are in violation of the companies’ own non-discrimination polices.

I’m actually kind of stunned as to how good this story is.  And coming on the heels of President Obama’s comments last night on the Jay Leno show, about Russia’s threats to arrest gay and gay-friendly Olympic athletes, the Olympics are finding themselves in quite a pickle.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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