Clash of Cultures: Sochi 2014

Ever since the creation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894, and the first games in 1896, the Olympic Games have brought people together.  This year in Sochi, 90 different countries will be represented by at least one athlete.  A long way from the 14 countries represented in the 1894 olympic games.  Sports have always worked as a facilitator for bringing different countries, people, and cultures together.  The controversy surrounding this years winter olympics games is Russia’s very strong stance on homosexuality.  The IOC has dealt with cultural controversies in the olympics before, see Mexico City, 1968, but this year they have their hands full.  Back in June, Russian president Vladimir Putin passed a law that came from a bill he signed banning any demonstration of homosexual propaganda.  The law has repercussions of fines and even jail time for those convicted.

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Photo from the New York Times of activist protesting in Russia

After this the western hemisphere erupted in protests.  Some went so far to say that the United States should boycott the olympics in Sochi.  Some countries have even banned the sale of Russian vodkas.  And rightfully so. The United States has struggled with gay marriage rights and the inclusive and exclusiveity of certain events toward the homosexual community.  However, this does not just concern the United States but 90 other countries as well.  The olympic games move from country to country every four years and every country has different rules and regulations as well as cultures.  As guests of Russia for this years olympics, who are we to decide their laws for them? The very core values of our Constitution say that we respect everyone’s opinion, so how do we deem it ok to opt out of their moment to host this great tradition when the U.S. has hosted olympic games at the same time they have dealt with human rights issues.

 The responsibility lies with the IOC.  Although it is the world who participates in the games, the IOC pull the strings to make it happen.  Differences in cultural issues should come as no surprise when you bring different countries together.  However, when legal material is passed that not only excludes one demographic of people but also creates the possibility of countries boycotting the games then the IOC must step in. If an organization calls itself ‘the supreme authority of the Olympic Movement’ then it better be able to back it up.  If the IOC allows this censorship of one demographic group, where is the line drawn? Will Christian countries be able to pass legislature that censors the representation of Islam? However, sports has a funny way of balancing out the world.  In 1936 Adolf Hitler sought to use the Berlin games as an opportunity to promote his ideas of Nazism and felt African Americans and Jews should not be allowed to participate.  However, similarly enough countries threatened to boycott and the games went on.  It was in that very same olympic games that the United States’ Jesse Owens emerged as the most successful athlete at the games winning four gold medals, the kicker, he was African American.

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