Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The sports world says uh-oh

Sh*t's getting real in Russia.
Every day I see a new set of news articles, blog posts, and various other forms of commentary and updates about how Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws will affect the upcoming Olympic Games.
As I wrote about already, the IOC isn't exerting a whole lot of pressure. And, at the time of my last post about this issue, I was leaning toward boycott--or at least bringing it up as a possibility to encourage some more meaningful discussion. But I read a very thoughtful article about how a boycott would serve, in part, to closet some openly gay athletes who would not be given a chance to compete in Sochi. I was compelled by New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup's comments in particular. Skjellerup asserted last week that he would go to Sochi and "speak out rather than sit out." 
The IOC had said that no one visiting Sochi for the games in February (athlete, coach, fan, media, etc.) would be subject to the laws. But the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, spoke to the contrary: “No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable."
This would seem to endanger people like Skjellerup and other gay people and allies who plan on doing something to protest the anti-civil rights legislation, whether it is a concerted or individual effort/protest. Skjellerup feels confident that the IOC will have his back in Russia, but what the IOC will do in the face of Mutko's unequivocal statement remains to be seen. Will it subtly suggest that gay athletes not do anything gay (whatever that means) during their time in Russia? Will we hear more statements about the mythical separation of sports and politics?
Well the IAAF is already covering that territory. With all the talk of sprinter Tyson Gay's absence from the upcoming world championships due to a positive test for a banned substance, some of us forgot to notice that the championships are being held in Moscow next week. I believe this is the first big international sporting event to come to the country since the law's passage. In anticipation the IAAF commented about the anti-gay laws. Nick Davies, the deputy secretary general of the organization, made comments even more lackluster than those of the IOC saying (I'm sarcastically paraphrasing) that he wishes Russia would see the error of its ways and reconsider the ban on anti-gay propaganda. However, he noted that the IAAF would follow the IOC lead and not make the events political, adding that the organization had to follow the laws of the countries in which sanctioned events are held, whether they agree with the laws or not.
Well, there is the possibility of not sanctioning events in said countries.
Remember when SARS hit China hard several years ago? Rather than put athletes in danger, sporting events--like the women's world hockey championships--were cancelled or relocated.
The situation in Russia is political (even if we are not supposed to talk about it) and it will be dangerous for those going to the Olympics this winter.
The IAAF's "this is not the place for politics" stance did not surprise me. Davies did remind the world though of its own charter that prevents discrimination based on gender, sex, and religion (what about race, sexuality, age, ethnicity?) and stated that such things are "simply not a problem in our sport."
Let's ask Caster Semenya to confirm that, shall we?

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