It appears that, when it comes to the Olympics, it is money before people. Two of the largest corporate sponsors behind the Olympics- Coca-Cola and McDonald’s- are refusing to pull their support from the Sochi Olympics despite the fact that openly LGBT athletes, visitors and staff could be arrested or legally harassed under Russia’s anti-gay laws.
Speaking to Buzzfeed, Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kate Harman stated that “We have long been a strong supporter of the LGBT community and have advocated for inclusion and diversity through both our policies and practices. We do not condone human rights abuses, intolerance, or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world.
She went on to say that “As a sponsor since 1928, we believe the Olympic Games are a force for good that unite people through a common interest in sports, and we have seen firsthand the positive impact and long-lasting legacy they leave on every community that has been a host.”
Since beginning construction on the Olympic arenas in Sochi, Russian officials have evicted and displaced numerous families without much compensation for them to resettle. Reporters and activists trying to document these abuses have been arrested and harassed.
Hartman apparently has not checked the news recently since, when asked about how the laws could impact LGBT employees of Coca-Cola, she stated that “the IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the games.”
Russia has made it clear that they intend to enforce the law even if the person is an Olympic athlete, a staff member for a foreign nation, or a visitor to Sochi.
McDonald’s spokeswoman Heidi Barker also stated that “There’s no room for discrimination under the Golden Arches. Regarding the recent Russian legislation, we support the International Olympic Committee’s belief that sport is a human right and the Olympic Games should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and athletes,” she added.
Both companies have been making inroads into the Russian market and do not want to threaten their working relationship with the Putin Government.
Because of the working relationship between the International Olympic Committee and NBC, it is also likely that NBC and its associated networks will do little in the way of mentioning the anti-gay laws in Russia or the other human rights abuses going on in Sochi.
Human Rights Watch President Kenneth Roth stated that “Companies that are concerned about their image with consumers are not going to want to be associated with a gay-bashing exercise — the commercial advantages are going to be completely undone. Olympic sponsors make enormous investments by being associated with the Sochi Olympics. They don’t want to be part of a debacle.”
The HRW has been calling on the IOC to pressure Russia to repeal the law. So far, the IOC is making it clear that they intend to not only support the law, but help to enforce it.
Roth noted that the situation could end up becoming disastrous for the Kremlin, the IOC and their sponsors. He added that “It’s easy to imagine a confrontation taking place on global television. It’s almost certain that athletes will flaunt their homosexuality or support for gay rights. That’ll create a potential conflict with Russian authorities. There’s the fear of this all going horribly wrong. The Kremlin cares about its reputation and the Olympics going off smoothly — they don’t want this to be a new embarrassment.”
The IOC and the US Olympic Committee have both said they want athletes to comply with the draconian laws in Russia even if they are LGBT or allies. Such a decree would amount to forcing athletes back into the closet. This is especially true for ice skater Johnny Weir, who often looks like he would be arrested in Russia just for walking down the street.
USOC CEO Scott Blackmun’s decree would mean that legally-wed LGBT athletes would have to leave their spouses at home, and their children as well. They would not be allowed to kiss or hold hands if they did come.
Blackmun stated when asked about what they would do if an athlete protested that “You can’t judge in advance what you’re going to do. Each Games is different. The athletes are always going into countries with laws different than his or her own country. They’re going to agree with those laws in some ways, they’re going to disagree with those laws in other ways. It’s our strong desire that our athletes comply with the laws of every nation that we visit. This law is no different.”
It has been noted that the IOC forced the Nazi Regime in Germany to give an exemption to Olympic athletes, staff and visitors during the Berlin Olympics in 1936. This time, the IOC is not even trying to force one from Putin.
Meanwhile, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva is doing damage control over anti-gay remakrs that she made defending Russia’s draconian laws. Isinbayeva criticized Swedish athlete Emma Green Tregaro for painting her nails in the color of the rainbow. Isinbayeva stated that “It’s unrespectful [sic] to our country, it’s unrespectful [sic] to our citizens, because we are Russians, Maybe we are different from European people and other people from different lands. If we allow [them] to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people.”
Isinbayeva is now claiming that she was misunderstood and that her English is not very good. The attempt at damage control came after British heptathlete Louise Hazel tweeted that “Yelena Isinbayeva’s ‘homophobic’ comments have no place in our sport!” She told the BBC “The International Olympic Committee should revise her position.”
Isinbayeva now claims that she is opposed to discrimination based upon sexuality and that her English is not very good. She said that “English is not my first language and I think I may have been misunderstood when I spoke yesterday. What I wanted to say was that people should respect the laws of other countries particularly when they are guests.”
She went on to state “But let me make it clear I respect the views of my fellow athletes, and let me state in the strongest terms that I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people on the grounds of their sexuality.”
Um. . .damage control indeed.
Finally, Lena Katina of the faux-lesbian Russian pop duo tATu said of the anti-gay laws in Russia that “The government not a long time ago made a new rule you can’t show that you are gay in public, which is weird—a lot of people from the government with the big positions are gay. Why people can’t be free?… In Russia the situation with the LGBT is still really tough. I think we changed this a little bit.”
Unfortunately, Katina remains innocent about how politics can work.