But with Sochi hosting a $50 billion extravaganza for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the stage is set for the world’s response.
So far, much of the pushback from the international community has been tepid, diplomatically framed.
President Barack Obama, in citing schedule conflicts, won’t attend the games. Neither will his wife, nor the vice president, nor any sitting cabinet member. Instead, openly gay athletes will be a part of the “diverse” U.S. delegation; tennis great Billie Jean King and Olympic medalists Caitlin Cahow and Brian Boitano. That’s a start.
The presidents of France and German have also said they won’t attend. Although neither Joachim Gauck nor Francois Hollande have issued a clear reason why not.
At least Obama in August made his feelings clear, saying, “One of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze….” The International Olympic Committee recently raised the stakes, issuing their rules for athletes, reiterating the apolitical tenure of the games. “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted,” the rule said. Rather, separate spaces, away from the competition and official events would be provided to accommodate free speech. A similar rule is what got John Carlos and Tommie Smith ejected from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics for their silent podium protest against black poverty and racism.
But we all remember that iconic imagery; Carlos and Smith with gloved fists raised, heads bowed.
An athlete’s performance at an Olympics is the culmination of a lifetime dedicated to their sport. But as Owens later wrote in his memoirs, his moment in Berlin needed to signify not only his own physical journey, but that of many more unnamed people.
“In the early 1830s, my ancestors were brought on a boat across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to America as slaves for men who felt they had a right to own other men. I boarded a boat to go back across the Atlantic Ocean to do battle with Adolf Hitler.” It should be noted that Hitler also targeted homosexuals. It’s a sad reminder that for some people, the bull’s eye hasn’t shifted.