Four years ago, several months after I had competed at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I met a boy who made me realize that not everyone has a clear path in life. This 16-year-old, whose identity I will keep confidential, had just changed educational facilities following an incident in which a group of schoolmates attempted to run him over with a car, simply because he is gay. While I won't tell you where this happened, I can say that it is a place that is not known for ignorance or conservative sensibilities.
This story struck a chord, and I have carried it with me ever since. During the recent Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, I was reminded of this young man, and the senseless bullying and threats he had to endure. The Olympics are supposed to be apolitical. The International Olympic Committee is not a country; it has no authority beyond its own events, and according to its own mission statements is concerned almost solely with sport. But in Sochi, the IOC found itself in a pickle.
This was certainly not the first time a host country was implementing aggressive and discriminatory policies towards its citizens. But Russia's recent passage of anti-gay laws put the Sochi Games -- and the IOC -- under unprecedented scrutiny. The facts could not be ignored that the human rights of some Russian citizens are being compromised based on the sole fact these people do not conform to traditional social ideals.
The IOC's Olympic Charter, while primarily focusing on sport, includes language promoting peace and condemning discrimination. How then, do they justify having their showcase event in Russia? How bad do the violations have to be for them to contradict said values? At what point will the IOC reassess a country's membership, and in this instance, its suitability for hosting the Olympics?
Given this context, I am disappointed in the Sochi Games. Medals were won, friendships were made, and the Games were largely dubbed a success. But during more than two weeks of competition, not one athlete or IOC member made a statement to advance the educational arm of the Olympic movement. And you may never hear the words 'Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws' uttered again.
While sport prevailed, human rights were unfortunately unable to conquer. And, as I write this, Vladimir Putin is poised to go to war even as the Paralympic Games are taking place in Sochi.
I am not afraid to admit that I am a dreamer. I am not afraid to admit that I see the best in people. And I am not afraid to admit that I feel for people I have never met. But as I sit here now, I wonder if perhaps my own personal beliefs about the Olympic principles were formed unrealistically. Pierre de Coubertin created the modern Olympic movement with a vision of peace. He dreamed of an organization conducted with the highest of moral standards. It would be difficult to argue that the Sochi Games lived up to those ideals.
Yet I still believe the Olympics have the ability to be virtuous; to educate, enlighten, and promote a vision of diversity and tolerance. As an Olympian I believe it is my duty to spread such a message. I hope I never have to hear another story as sad as the one of the young man I met four years ago. Sadly though I know there are many more young men and woman out there just like him.
The Olympics may just be an event about sport, but Olympians need not just be athletes. The Olympics are about capturing moments, and many failed to capture the spirit of hope. A generation of athletes may have been inspired by the Sochi Games, but were a generation of young people educated and inspired to the point where knowing that who you are and where you come from is not a barrier to achieving the goal of becoming an Olympian?