Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Sochi Olympics Train-wreck

Perhaps you've been living under a rock, or more likely, nursing a not-so-super Superbowl hangover? If so, you might have missed yesterday's near-empty press conference by International Olympic Committee Chairman, Thomas Bach. Mr. Bach used the opportunity to criticize world leaders for  deciding not to attend the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and for using them "as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests."

The chastising, clearly directed at US President Obama, German President Joachim Gauck, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and other leaders, was immediately followed by revelations that many of the newly built hotels in Sochi are not ready for guests and that the conditions in many rooms are like something out of a nightmare with taps that dispense toxic water (when the plumbing works at all), lack of heat, filth, bare electrical outlets, broken or missing furnishings, unlit stairwells, non-working elevators, and construction workers camped out in hallways.

News also followed of additional security threats after months of revelations that guests safety cannot be guaranteed by Russian Security  at non-Olympic venues like hotels and restaurants in the areas surrounding Sochi. The games have been plagued by news of security threats after a terrorist attacked a Volgograd train station a little over a month ago, killing 16 and injuring 50 others. Russia has been a constant target of terrorists attacks for decades owing to their history of human rights abuses when the Soviet Union dominated the nearby region for most of the twentieth century.

Strangely, Volgograd was also the recent sight of the murder of a 23 year old man, Vladislav Tornovoi, who after a night out drinking with some longtime buddies, revealed to them that he was gay. He was discovered the following morning, his genitals mutilated, he had been raped with a broken beer bottle, his head caved in with a brick and then set on fire.

Despite massive international criticism over Russia's new anti-gay laws criminalizing LGBT persons, foreign and domestic, from stating anything that might be construed as positive about themselves in a public forum, the Russian President Vladamir Putin has ensured the safety of any LGBT athletes who choose to attend and compete in the games. But he warned, "Leave our children alone," insinuating that LGBT people are pedophiles when research and the body of criminal law has overwhelmingly proven it to be a habit of heterosexual males visited on their daughters worldwide.

Yesterday's posting of a YouTube video by Human Rights Watch showing some of the actual violence that has been perpetrated on Russian LGBT youth over the past year following the passing of the law that has emboldened some to even commit murder. Yesterday, the three Russian friends of the young 23 year old Tornovoi were sentenced to the minimum nine years in prison because Russians overwhelmingly believe that Vladislav Tornovol got what he deserved. The brutal slaying of a gay man after he was tortured by his friends, beaten to death, and set on fire is punished by a slap on the back and a sentence in a country club prison, likely to be released in a few months for good behavior. The message to Russian LGBT youth: Don't be who you are or we'll kill you.

Mr. Bach, ignoring all of this, called on world leaders to "have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes."

Some might suggest that Mr. Bach should have the courage to admit that it was a mistake to choose a violently dangerous, corrupt, poorly-developed country, with an abysmal record of human rights as a place to host an event that is intended to highlight the very best that humans can achieve when competing, working and playing together in an atmosphere of mutual dignity and respect.

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