Unfortunately, the Olympics are not all fun and games in Russia.
For years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has squelched opposition movements, stifled free speech and bullied peaceful demonstrators. Since Russia was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics, little has changed. Even in the hours leading up to the opening ceremony, Russia arrested several human rights activists.
Anastasia Smirnova was arrested in St. Petersburg, Russia the day of the Olympic opening ceremony. Her lone offense was her intent to take photos with a banner that promoted principle six of the Olympic Charter: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.”
Hours later in Moscow, 10 LGBT activists (two of whom were non-Russian citizens) were arrested for trying to hold the rainbow flag and sing the Russian national anthem.
Numerous other activists have been arrested and jailed for criticizing Russia in the weeks leading up to the Olympics, some on charges as far-fetched as “swearing in public.”
That Russian authorities bristle at objects as simple as a banner which states a principle of the Olympic Charter is particularly telling Russian policies are incompatible with the Olympic Charter. The Olympic Charter rejects discrimination and political intimidation; Russian law sponsors it.
Russian authorities clearly recognize this contradiction. Why else would they react so sternly to a woman with a camera and a banner? Among Russia’s many other human rights violations, the country’s federal law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” (or, more simply, “keep the gays away from our children”) is an obvious affront to the Olympic spirit.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) needs to stop rewarding countries like Russia that defile the most basic tenets of human rights.
Human Rights Watch has been diligently documenting human rights abuses surrounding the Sochi Olympics since 2009. Despite its best efforts to push the IOC to take action against some of these violations, the IOC has mostly remained unhelpful.
“For the most part, Human Rights Watch’s concerns were met either with rebuff, obfuscation or outright misinformation from the Russian government, and the IOC consistently accepted the Russian government’s position at face value,” Human Rights Watch said on its website in late January.
Every two years, Olympic athletes from around the world show incredible strength, courage and grace. It is time for the IOC to do the same.