Sochi Social Scandal

This Friday, February 7, 2014, athletes from around the world will gather in Sochi, Russia to participate in the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic games. There will inevitably be discussion of fifteen-year-old US figure skating phenom Polina Edmunds, and the eleven Minnesotan hockey players who will be wearing USA jerseys, and the torch that was accidentally extinguished multiple times on its journey which included a trip to outer space. However, the political tensions that have arisen in Olympics past are just as present this year, especially regarding Russia’s anti-gay laws and sentiments. In December, President Obama named three openly gay athletes to the United States’ olympic delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies in Sochi. This bold statement made by the president communicated the administration’s strong support of the LGBT community to the rest of the world.

In June of 2013, the Russian Parliament passed a law which banned “gay propaganda.” There was talk in the United States of boycotting the olympics, as a result of this anti-gay legislation in Russia as well as other political strife, but President Obama rejected the idea, and instead made his statement by naming tennis player Billie Jean King, hockey player Caitlin Cahow, and figure skater Brian Boitano who all identify as LGBT. In a recent press briefing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney commented, “The U.S. Delegation to the Olympic Games represents the diversity that is the United States. All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports. We are proud of each and every one of them and think they will serve as great ambassadors of the United States to the Olympic Games.” Rather than boycotting the games, President Obama sent a powerful message to Russia by defying its anti-gay legislation and sending gay athletes to represent the United States. Cahow told USA Today, “It’s obviously a statement that’s being made, but I think it’s an incredibly respectful one. Basically, the White House is highlighting Americans who know what it means to have freedoms and liberties under the Constitution. That’s really what we’re representing in Sochi and it’s not at all different from what’s espoused in the spirit of Olympism.”

The Olympic games showcase the most talented athletes from around the world, yet they are also provide a unique chance for countries to present their ideals and showcase themselves to the rest of the world.Watch your favorite athletes compete, be inspired by their hard work and talent, and pick favorites for the gold medal rounds. But more importantly, pay attention to the underlying political issues that are inevitably being stirred up by the games. President Obama won’t be the only one sending a message to Russia and the rest of the world over these next two weeks.