Protests: This one from Hong Kong demands an end to Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law — and puts some effeminate eye-lashes and lip stick on an image of the country’s leader, Vladimir Putin, for good measure. *AFP photo
Protests: This one from Hong Kong demands an end to Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law — and puts some effeminate eye-lashes and lip stick on an image of the country’s leader, Vladimir Putin, for good measure. *AFP photo

In the midst of human rights violations, terrorist attacks, security threats, hotel horror stories and safety concerns, 2,850 athletes from 88 countries have congregated in Sochi, Russia for the XXII Winter Olympic Games.

One of the most controversial and exorbitant Winter Olympics — it cost a reported $50bn — officially got under way Friday with a spectacular opening ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium. 

Yet hidden behind the grandeur is a gloom attempting to overshadow the original purpose and spirit of the Olympic movement.

 Human rights violations

In a week that saw an  NFL draft prospect and the current England women’s soccer captain take the decision to ‘come out’, this former communist
country’s attitude to homosexuality is under the spotlight.

Russia has no laws on the discrimination against sexual orientation. Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin imposed the ‘anti-gay propaganda law’. This essentially means it is illegal to group gay relationships equal to heterosexual relationships and illegal to provide information on gay rights.

Since the law took effect, there have been numerous arrests of gay rights activists and an increasing number of anti-gay hate crimes. 

Many Olympic athletes debated boycotting Sochi due to this. Putin’s comments that gay people were welcome at the Olympics provided they ‘leave children alone’ did little to help.

Terrorist activity

Sochi has always been a hostile district of Russia and has been a recent target of terrorist attacks and threats leading up to the Games. 

In late December, two attacks a day apart were conducted by suicide bombers, killing a total of 34.

In early January, a group named Caucasus Emirate (associated with Al-Qaeda), took responsibility for the bombings. 

Attacks so close to the Olympics and its venues struck fear in the minds of the world, to the point where some athletes have elected not to attend or have opted not to bring their families to Sochi. 

In the wake of the bombings and threats, the Russian government has bolstered their Sochi operations by increasing security checks and having 37,000 security officials on the ground to protect both athletes and visitors.

Historically, the worst  attack at an Olympic Games occurred in Munich at the 1972 summer games where a Palestinian group called ‘Black September’ murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team. 

Why Sochi?

Sochi was selected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in July 2007, in spite of the blatant discrimination against the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. 

Why? Why would the
IOC drop Austria as contender after a doping scandal, yet reward a nation with the prominent honour of welcoming the world when they refuse to accept some of their own citizens? Were they selected to bring these issues to the surface or bury them beneath the pomp and circumstance?  

Irrespective of the rationale, if a nation cannot accept ALL its citizens equally, they should not be rewarded with the prestige of hosting such a big event.

It is hypocrisy at its highest and utterly disrespectful to those fighting for equal rights and acceptance. 

Should these Winter Games have been boycotted? Perhaps, but that would not have been fair to  the thousands of athletes who are participating. It is also highly unlikely it would have changed Putin’s mind.

But the real culpability lies with the IOC and other international sporting committees, who continue to reward unworthy nations.  Russia, by the way, will  host a Formula 1 Grand Prix this year and stage the 2018 FIFA World Cup.Qatar — another nation with Human Rights violations against gays and women — will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.  

The light in the darkness

In spite of the negativity surrounding the Games’ build-up, there shines a massive and positive light that should not be dimmed.  

That, of course, is the talented athletes who have the privilege to compete for their country on such a momentous stage as the Olympics. Let us not lose focus on the amount of time, energy, dedication and passion that goes into training for the Olympics. 

These athletes are living their dream. For them and all attending in Sochi, we can only hope for a safe and successful 17 days in Sochi. 

Murphy's law is alright by me

We may not have a large contingent in Sochi but we do have the one and only Tucker Murphy.

Murphy has been competing since 2006 in cross-country skiing, specifically the Men’s Skiathlon 15 km Free Classic. Although  unlikely to bring home a medal, he is golden in our hearts and has proved to the world that — in spite of some unnecessarily harsh words on Twitter and other media — only a proud Bermudian can rock a red-hot pair of Bermuda shorts at the Winter Olympics. 

Tucker Murphy’s best career finish was 11th in the National Championships in Spain in 2009, while he finished 88th at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. 

Follow Bobbi Singh on  Twitter @sportschickca.