Opinion by Claire Wiebe
I’m going to watch the Sochi Olympics, but I won’t feel good about it.
In 2007, the IOC chose Sochi, Russia to host the XXII Winter Olympics. Sure, Russia’s prime minister/president/future authoritarian leader was looking more and more powerful. Sure, Russia doesn’t have the brightest human rights record (neither does China, and nor did Nazi Germany when the games were hosted there in 1936). And sure, the Russian government has a record of imprisoning activists, not allowing NGOs that raise awareness of these issues and assist victims of abuse to operate, and supporting Bashar al-Assad’s murder of hundreds of thousands of his own people. But when the Russian government passed a law that bans showing minors “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” in June 2013, it seemed that the American public woke up. We started to realize that maybe Russia wasn’t the best place to hold an event celebrating world unity. Do we, as residents of a country that professes a love for freedom of speech and human rights, want to be unified with Russia?
My answer is, of course, “no.” The United States should not support Russia, and should take a stand against its regressive and cruel policies. But the White House has moved against Russia, with the president and vice president declining to attend the games. In addition, the American delegation to Sochi includes prominent LGBT athletes Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow, Bonnie Blair, and Eric Heiden. The delegation sends a strong message to Russia that the United States stands behind their athletes and citizens, no matter their sexuality. In a statement made to USA Today, Caitlin Cahow said, “It’s obviously a statement that’s being made, but I think it’s an incredibly respectful one.” The United States is using its cultural influence to promote LGBT rights and, by extension, human rights on the international stage.
This is why I will be watching the Olympics next week. The athletes and participating countries have an incredible opportunity to voice their opposition to Russian human rights abuses. In addition, the Olympics are not solely about politics. They are about embracing the power of the human body and acknowledging the work and passion that athletes devote to their sport. For many athletes, the Olympics are the realization of a life-long dream. As cheesy as it sounds, the Olympics inspire viewers from all around the world to follow their dreams. I will watch the Olympics, but not because I support Russia’s politics. I may not buy Russian vodka when I turn 21, and I’ll definitely support politicians that are strong proponents of human rights, but I will watch the Olympics. I will watch the Olympics because I love watching figure skating and skiing and bobsledding, and because the Olympics inspire me to work harder and to respect my body and all it can do.