Frustrated at the fact that most people in the world have opinions, and that in most civilized countries you don’t get arrested simply for expressing them, Russian Olympic head Dmitry Chernyshenko said yesterday that he doesn’t think Olympic athletes should be permitted to express their political views during news conference at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia, even when asked.
The problem for Chernyshenko is that International Olympic Committee (IOC) chairman Thomas Bach said just the day before that athletes could make political statements during the press conferences, though not at the actual events themselves.
While saying that athletes are not permitted to make political statements during competition or the medal ceremony, Bach added: “It is also clear, on the other hand, the athletes enjoy the freedom of speech so if in a press conference they wanted to make a political statement then they are absolutely free to do so.”
The contradiction between the IOC and the Russians harkened back to last summer when the US Olympic Committee, the Russians and the IOC couldn’t get their story straight then either.
All of this is against the backdrop of Russia’s draconian new anti-gay “propaganda” law that bans any speech or actions perceived to be pro-gay, if they occur in front of children, or in a manner that might influence children. Many have interpreted this to mean that simply being openly gay would be illegal. The law is so vague that it could cause a lot of trouble for Olympic athletes, media and guests.
And in fact, both the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, and the Russian Interior Ministry threatened to arrest Olympic athletes, and other guests, who ran afoul of the law. And while Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to assuage foreign concerns, Putin did reiterate the other day that the anti-gay law will still apply to everyone attending the Olympics.
In related Olympic intolerance news, Canadian IOC member Dick Pound dismissed international human rights activists’ concerns about the anti-gay law by apparently suggesting that gay Russians had it good because at least they weren’t being killed.
“In Malaysia, you can be put to death. In Nigeria, you can be put in jail for God knows how long,” Pound said. “So it’s a target of convenience with respect to Russia, not that I approve of the law, but putting it on a scale of 1-10 of odious laws, it’s not way up there near 10.”
Pound said much of the anti-Russia gay stand emanates from the United States, where, Pound says, only a handful of states allow same-sex marriage.
“So whose ox is getting gored here?” Pound said.
Actually, Dick, the issue isn’t permitting gays to marry. It’s about throwing them in jail simply because of who they are. It’s about threatening to pass a law taking their children away from them. And it’s about having the government tacitly sanction the kidnapping, and possibly murder, of young gay teens simply because they’re gay.
What an incredibly insensitive, un-democratic, and pro-fascist thing for any member of the IOC to say. It’s one thing for the IOC to not pay near enough attention to the human rights problems in the countries they visit. But it’s quite another for the IOC to almost give a stamp of approval to human rights abuses by minimizing them.
And these people wonder why they have a problem.