The Olympic Rings look like getting tarnished at Sochi 2014

Sochi Olympics


This may be unbelievable but true. The Mayor of Winter Olympic and Paralympic host city Sochi has said gay people do not live there. Anatoly Pakhomov told the BBC’s Panaroma programme: “We don’t have them in our town.” When asked if he was sure, he remarked: “I’m not sure, I don’t bloody know them.”

Russia’s law banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” has provoked widespread international condemnation since it was introduced last year.

Predictably, its also caused something of a diplomatic incident with many prominent people across the world saying they will stay away from the Sochi Olympic Games because of such draconian laws.

Sensitive to world public opinion, Mayor Pakhomov added in his interview to the BBC: “Our hospitality will be extended to everyone who respects the laws of the Russian Federation and who doesn’t impose their habits and their will on others.”

But this kind of misses the point, doesn’t it?

His starting point should be tolerance and not belligerence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sparked consternation earlier this month when he told volunteers for the Sochi Games that gay people should “leave children in peace”, according to Russian news agencies. He added: “We do not have a ban on non-traditional sexual relationships. We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia. I want to underline this. Propaganda among children. These are absolutely different things – a ban on something or a ban on the propaganda of that thing. We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being grabbed off the street, and there is no punishment for such kinds of relations.”

The tone of such sentiments won’t help to get a balanced message across even if that’s the intent of the Russian President. It looks like he needs some good PR advice.

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme #Hunted broadcast on Wednesday 5 February was an extremely disturbing glimpse into the daily life faced by ordinary citizens who run the gauntlet of vigilantes who operate openly in Russia.

It’s so sad that a civilized society has turned on innocent people without the authorities showing any concern for their human rights. This doesn’t bode well for the future of Russia in the wake of the Winter Olympic Games 2014 once the world’s attention moves on and these poor innocent people have to endure the bigotry and homophobia that’s not out of place in totalitarian and oppressive regimes in other parts of the less civilized world.

After watching this documentary, you can’t help feeling that there’s a national conspiracy of silence in Russia when clearly those who commit grave acts of violence against ordinary people appear to do so with impunity. Film and photographic evidence doesn’t appear to count for much.

Once the rule of law is lost – so is the conscience of society and as we look on in Europe where so many athletes have gathered in Sochi to celebrate the spirit of mankind starting today, I really hope the spirit of the Olympic Games and the message of tolerance and respect for others counts for something among ordinary Russians as well as those who savagely attack and falsely accuse others simply because they choose to live their life in a different way.

Sadly, I doubt the Winter Olympic Games will make any difference.

Last week, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev downplayed the controversial anti-gay rights laws, describing it as an issue “invented abroad” which is “non-existent” in his country.

A protest zone in the Russian town of Khosta, about 18 kilometres from the Sochi 2014 Coastal Cluster containing the Olympic Stadium, has been created by organisers for people to use during the Games.

The official US delegation in Sochi will be led by openly gay athletes: former tennis player Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow, a two-time Olympic ice hockey medalist, and ex-Olympic skating champion Brian Boitano.

Tolerance for others is a lesson that needs to be learnt in Russia as it prepares to welcome the world to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi that starts today.

Let’s hope it’s not too late to learn. 

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