With the winter Olympics started, excitement for the usual glamorous extravagance we associate with the games is mounting ever higher. The pictures of the impressive multi-million facilities, skating rinks and stadiums beguile and build in us a childish excitement for the spectacle. The Olympics have long been a symbol of international cooperation, a way to unite despite our differences under the international passion for sport and movement. But this year’s feelings of togetherness and unity are marred by controversies many find hard to ignore. Tensions are spiking worldwide as the Olympics draw nearer; will they be easier to ignore once the dazzling show is in motion?
Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law, passed on the 30th of June, is known to all; the attempts of the Russian LGBT community to establish a Pride House at this year’s winter Olympics, more recently, were brutally turned down. The difficulty this causes competing openly gay athletes, gay rights supporters, and the Russian gay community, is unquestionable. Though the USA, amongst other countries, is sending two openly gay athletes to compete- tennis star Billie Jean King and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow- this international defiance of modern Russian homophobia could either help raise awareness to Russian supporters of Putin’s measures, or further agitate the anti-gay violence prevalent on a daily basis. Despite the Olympics being an age old tradition, they carry with them the chance for modernity and resistance to time- or perhaps the ability to adapt and evolve. In the past, countries on the brink of war with one another have sent athletes to compete alongside each other. It is the uniting spirit of sport, where nationality, political beliefs or sexual orientation mean nothing so long as a fair game is played. Which begs the question; how is Russia’s recent homophobia trickling into an international event which promotes equality and peace, in any way, fair?
The international LGBT community is not alone in setting up a general outcry over this year’s winter Olympics; the games are located mainly in the Caucasus region, sparking outrage from the international Circassian community. The expulsion of Circassians from their native region in 1864 following the Russian-Circassian war either by deportation or extermination, has bloodied the history of the Caucasus region. More controversially still, several Olympic skiing and snowboarding events will be taking place on ‘Red hill’, which earned its name due to the bloodshed of Russian-Circassian conflict. This year’s winter Olympics games have reopened this little-heard of international conflict, , and raised questions as to weather the Olympic games, a symbol of peace, were being held in an appropriate location. The Circassian ethnic cleansing has ignited international protests worldwide, making this year’s winter games contentious on yet another level. It is difficult to interpret Putin’s motivations behind choosing the Caucasus region for the games; after all, Russia has ample natural conditions in several other regions for winter sports. Though Putin frequents the region for his personal winter holidays, amongst other members of Russia’s elite, perhaps the Circassian reaction had not been accounted for, or worse still, dismissed.
With the controversial nature of this year’s Olympics in mind, the games still have an expected television audience of 3 billion. It is rare for the entire world to unite in excitement for one event; so rare it only ever happens once ever four years. Billions have been spent, countless hours devoted to building an image of Russia the world can both respect and admire. It will be all too easy to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.