Treading Softly on the Politicizing of the 2014 Sochi Olympics Over Gay Rights
Previously published on 2/24/2014
Unfortunately, the 2014 Winter Olympic was politicized when President Obama decided to skip the Games and encouraged other leaders to do the same over Russia's move to suppress LGBT social activities. Although the Games are supposed to be an apolitical platform that can serve as a means of connecting nations, even in times of great division, politics worms its way into everything while there are appropriate ways of discussing the politics of the Olympics without politicizing the millennia long tradition. As President Obama likes to draw on the strategies of his predecessors, it seems his decision to personally boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia has been justified by precedents like Jimmy Carter's boycott of the 1980 Summer Games.
Where Carter's actions were inspired by the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan at the end of the Cold War, and a failure to boycott the Olympics clearly had just as much weight as attending them, President Obama's actions were inspired by his disapproval of internal Russian policies, which is not a pressing diplomatic issue. Clearly, the anti-LGBT laws that inspired this protest run counter to America's views on civil liberties and freedom, but America also stands for the right of a People to choose their own form of governance and laws. Consequently, the Russians have a democratic right to pass laws that reflect the characteristics of their culture(s), even if we find those laws unsavory. The fact that Obama openly criticized Russian law or Putin himself does not raise concerns over American dominance; it is the fact that he has chosen to force the issue of anti-gay politics onto the Olympics that makes his decision inappropriate.
Boycotting the Olympics, whether in whole or in part, for political reasons must been done in very select situations where attending the Olympics would show support for the policies of the host country. Frankly, there is a myriad of more appropriate, more effective ways to voice disapproval of Russian policies. That said, it is important to understand the broader context in which this protest was made. Russia is trying to reassert itself as a superpower and rebuild its sphere of influence. Somewhat novel to Putin is his growing use of soft power to achieve his will and Russia's interests. Actions like shielding whistleblower Edward Snowden from American reprisal and pressing Syria to negotiate a ceasefire with opposition groups helps improve Russia's image while earning the former Soviet power global influence. Because both Russia and the US have love-hate relationships with many of the world's Peoples, these two frenemies are able to use the diplomatic missteps of the other to gain a diplomatic edge.