Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hollow assurance

In response to an International Olympic Committee inquiry about its new law banning "propaganda" of what the Russians characterize as "nontraditional sexual relations", Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak assured the IOC that Russia "will comply fully with the Olympic Charter's provision against discrimination of any kind".

The new law

... penalizes anyone who distributes information aimed at persuading minors that "nontraditional" relationships are normal or attractive.

The law applies equally to everyone and "cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation," Kozak said.

Of course, what does it mean to "distribute" information? No one seems to know. Russia's government doesn't seem interested in nailing down the details. Convenient, don't you think? That leaves all the room the government needs to apply the law any way it likes.

The IOC was eager to give the Russian government as much credit as possible.

"We have today received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation," [IOC President Jacques] Rogge said in a statement.
But of course, Rogge's statement (and Kozak's too) entirely misses the point.

There was never a question of gay athletes or spectators not being welcome at the Olympics. Russia could neither have won nor kept the bid to host the games if it had threatened to bar gays. That's a stupid strawman issue designed to distract from the real problem.

The real problem is, Russia is telling visitors (and natives, of course) that they'd better watch what they say. They'd better watch what they wear, too. Anything that could be construed as a message is fair game under the Russian law. For all we know, that could include something as innocuous as an athlete acknowledging a same-sex partner at a press conference.

Russian soil, Russian law. The thing is, those of us who aren't Russians deserve better from the IOC than a transparent evasion of the question at hand. We expect that from the Russian government. We should hold the IOC to a higher standard.

And beyond the Olympics, it behooves anyone who gives a damn about decent treatment of other human beings to consider whether doing business with Russia is moral. Visiting or trading with Russia tells Russians that bigotry is acceptable.

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