Westhem: Russia is disrupting spirit of Olympics

Aug. 30, 2013, 5:12 p.m.

The Olympics is supposed to be a time when racial and international borders are ignored. Confrontations, negotiations, animosity and discontent between countries are supposed to be pushed to the wayside. Religion and politics take a backseat to something that unites us all: sports.

No matter what social or economic background one comes from, anyone can compete with anyone. Drive, dedication and passion can push an athlete farther than money can and that’s why people love to cheer for the underdog or see strong competition.

The Olympics has always been a time to unite the world by showcasing each nation’s greatest athletes in one arena with people from all walks of life either competing or spectating under the same roof.

I interviewed a friend of mine last year who competed in track and field at the 2012 London Olympics. He said that the greatest part of the experience for him was walking through the Olympic Village, hearing all of the different languages being spoken and interacting with people of different cultures in an atmosphere where the athletes and spectators were free to be who they all were and represent themselves and their nation to the world.

But now Russia is making the Olympics a political spectacle and could potentially use its position of power in hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics as a means to make a statement on gay relations, thereby jeopardizing the spirit and innate acceptance that constitute the positive culture of the Olympics.

Nice going, Russia.

I’m not going to try to understand the reasoning behind Russia’s anti-gay policies, but I would like to point out the effect that it has had on athletes around the world. Instead of spawning division, judgment and other ill feelings, it has generated solidarity among athletes around the world, including most recently at the world track and field championships in Moscow.However, is this the right kind of platform and the right time for athletes to push their support for gay rights? These athletes have dedicated their lives to preparing for this trip to the Olympics. Could politics end up jeopardizing their chances at gold? For an event that is supposed to eradicate political differences for three weeks, it would be an absolute shame if politics interrupted the integrity of the Games.

The last time that athletes had to give up the Olympic experience because political considerations couldn’t be put aside was during the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. Isn’t it telling that Russia is the root of the problem again?

It should make us, as Americans, thankful that we have the openness in our country that we do; that active athletes like Jason Collins and Brittney Griner could come out with their sexuality without harming their athletic careers. The U.S. has been at the forefront of acceptance with regards to LGBT affairs even as far back as 1981 with Billie Jean King. It’s nice that we live in a country where sports can remain sports and not become political spectacles when gay athletes are involved. Go USA.

But now that the issue of LGBT rights and athletes is being broached outside of our nation, how will the world react? What will the culture be at the Sochi Winter Olympics? Will there still be the same feeling of acceptance and national pride in the air that my friend experienced in London?

Russia recently came out with a statement to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), claiming that the anti-gay law won’t affect gay spectators and athletes. However, how are they going to feel being in a country that is openly intolerant of their sexuality? Not the welcoming atmosphere that the Olympics is supposed to promote.

Russia’s initial disapproval of gay athletes and spectators sounds eerily similar to the political environment in Germany surrounding Hitler’s 1936 Summer Olympics. Just saying.

If this keeps snowballing in the political direction that it’s taking, maybe the IOC needs to be a bit more conscientious in its decisions regarding who can host the Olympics.

Ashley Westhem is worried about the direction the Olympics is taking with regards to its core values. Send her your feedback at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Ashley Westhem was Editor in Chief of Vol. 248 after serving as Executive Editor and Managing Editor of Sports. She is the voice of Stanford women’s basketball for KZSU as well as The Daily’s beat writer for the team and aids in KZSU’s coverage of football. She graduated in 2016 and is currently a Communications masters student. Ashley is from Lake Tahoe, California.

Login or create an account