I’m a bit of an Olympics grouch. Maybe it was holding games in repressive, pollution-laden communist China. Maybe it was the refusal to designate a moment of silence commemorating the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich games. Or maybe it is the anti-nationalistic blather voiced about games in which every athlete wears his country’s uniform and each nation’s medal haul is calculated by the hour. But Sochi, Russia, really is the last straw.
I agree with Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch. She explains that host countries are supposed to comply with the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism,” which include respect for human rights and freedom of the press:
Starting in 2008, Human Rights Watch has documented myriad Russian abuses associated with preparation for the Olympics. These include government harassment and intimidation of activists and journalists, abuses of migrant workers from the former Soviet bloc who are building all the major Olympic venues (including the media center) and forced evictions of some families without compensation. Some migrant workers who tried to complain have been detained.
Over the past year, Russia has also introduced repressive laws targeting certain nonprofit organizations as “foreign agents.” With raids, threats and intimidation, the crackdown has been the most severe of its kind in the post-Soviet era. Central to this campaign is a new law targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. All these efforts are at odds with the Olympic ideal, as expressed in its charter, of “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Russian authorities are apparently counting on the I.O.C. to keep quiet again.
And then there are the rigged elections, corrupt government, imprisonment of political opponents and — let’s not forget — invasion and occupation of 20 percent of Georgia.
The International Olympic Committee is hopeless, and Vladimir Putin is indifferent to public criticism, but sponsors are another matter altogether. Worden is most upset about gay rights (“Unless sponsors and franchise-holders like NBC, Coca-Cola, G.E., McDonalds and Visa want to risk being associated with an officially homophobic Olympics, they must find their voices — before the next I.O.C. head is anointed.”) But there are many reasons not to patronize the Olympics or patronize those companies getting blood money for the mockery of the Olympic spirit.