“Lately there has been a lot of discussion and I am pushed by several sponsors about what will happen with this new law in Russia,” International Olympic Committee marketing chief Gerhard Heiberg told Sochi Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko, Reuters reports. “Especially the American sponsors are afraid what could happen. This could ruin a lot for all of us.”
Well, perhaps now the IOC knows how gays in Russia feel. Heiberg is referring to an anti-gay propaganda law passed in June that prohibits the promotion or dissemination of information regarding “non-traditional sexual relations.” As if to add insult to injury, another law was proposed last week that would deny same-sex parents custody of their own children.
Russian officials, from President Vladimir Putin on down, have defended the propaganda law, claiming that it is not discriminatory and would not disrupt the Games in February. Except that it kind of would.
“We make this clear. This law recently passed does not prohibit homosexuality directly or indirectly. It does not contradict elements of the Olympic Charter. It will not stop 2014 proudly upholding the Olympic values,” Chernyshenko said. “The law will have no impact for any guest visitor. Whether athletes or just fans or members of the Olympic family, everybody is welcome to enjoy the fantastic Games.”
Chernyshenko cited that time Putin awarded “the highest Russian order” to a homosexual as “a greatest example” of Russia’s rich tradition of diversity, adding that it’s “important” to have the IOC’s “support in this campaign.”
Heiberg maintains that the IOC is not trying to change Russian law, and has already shown their support by reminding athletes not to spread any propaganda — gay or otherwise — while in their host country; the laws of which they are bound to respect. But the Committee is really worried about Russia’s ability to deliver, since the World Track & Field Championships in Moscow last month had more empty seats than a synagogue on Christmas morning.
“To my big surprise on the (Moscow) opening day with the president of the country present, the stadium was a third full despite promises of the organizing committee,” said IOC member and former NBC official Alex Gilady. “Moscow is of course 12-13 million people, Sochi is (much smaller).” Gilady warned that empty seats would serve as a deterrent for audiences who might wonder, “Why should I be the only idiot watching this?”
In all fairness, that happens with every Winter Olympics. Meanwhile, those championships also acted as a dry-run for the international drama one can expect from the Sochi Olympics, when Swedish high jumper Emma Green-Trogero painted her nails rainbow; an act Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva called “unrespectful.”
So while boycotting the Olympics may not be the answer — as tradition dictates, the show must go on — continuing to put pressure on sponsors may be the most effective way to prove to Russia that the ruble stops here. Unless, of course, you’re Coco-Cola.
Photo: You Think You Know