In exactly six months, the Winter Olympics will kick off in Sochi, Russia, and we’ll all be tuned in to watch everything from moguls to freestyle snowboarding and beyond. I’m actually a really big fan of the Winter Olympics, perhaps an even bigger fan than their summertime counterpart every four years. This year, though, I’m not sure what to make of the spectacle. The 2014 games are being held in a country that has deemed it acceptable, and legislatively required, to arrest and detain both local residents and foreign visitors who “spread gay propaganda.” If, for example, I were to go to 2014’s Winter Olympics in any capacity, I would risk being beaten, arrested, detained, and deported.
And that’s just me. That doesn’t count the LGBT fans from all around the world, their allies who will be with them at the games, and the LGBT athletes and allies who will be participating in the spectacle. This is a big problem. It could lead to serious human rights concerns during what is supposed to be a celebratory time of peace, unity, and multinational togetherness. The idea of a boycott has been floated by some US politicians, while others have advocated showing up and putting on a multinational pride parade. But perhaps relocating the games is a simpler solution that can appease all sides, except the Russian side, of course. Let’s examine the options.
Option 1: America Boycotts the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
This sounds like a really great thing, a really strong message. The problem, though, is that it doesn’t really do anything productive. Sure, American athletes will be missing from the games. But that won’t reduce the media attention given to the event, nor will it dramatically reduce the positive economic impact that the games will have on Sochi in the long run. American athletes will suffer the inability to compete, and foreign nations like Russia will pick up more medals without our athletes on the scene. This is a big loss, even if the drama of it all might appease some LGBT activists.
Option 2: Show Up in Rainbow Drag
Another option advocated by activists and others has been to show up in rainbow hats, rainbow lapel pins, and with adorned messages of LGBT support and advocacy. Great idea, right? Yes! This would be nice. But it doesn’t go far enough, and it could lead to some unintended consequences. Russia won’t arrest LGBT athletes and their star allies, but they will certainly take out their frustration on visiting fans and “no-names” who would be far less likely to cause headlines and global media outrage. Private citizens and innocent travelers would suffer, the games would go on, and perhaps very few would notice. That’s no good.
Option 3: Move the Games to Vancouver
Moving the games to Vancouver would be a dramatic step, but not one completely out of reach. The 2010 host city still has all of its venues, hotels, and infrastructure in place. It would certainly require a last-minute hustle, but there would be no shortage of fans and venues to make the Games a total success. An opening ceremony at the last minute would be a challenge, of course, but I’m sure they could pull something off. And that isn’t really why we watch the Olympics anyway, right? Vancouver has expressed its willingness to work with this option if the International Olympic Committee seeks to invoke it, and I think they should. Let’s let Canada absorb those tolerant tourist dollars instead of Russia’s ruthless, hateful regime. Canada, where gay marriage is legal, healthcare is universal, crime is low, and tolerance is high. It just makes sense.