In Chinese medicine, "chi" is the term for the universal energy. Universal energy does not discriminate. Please forgive the pun, but according to Putin's latest anti-LGBT decree, there will be no chi in Sochi, Russia, leaving the 2014 Winter Olympics just so-so.
The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow when I was entering my prime as an athlete. Although I was not on the Olympic team (I missed the podium by one place in my specialty at the World Games), I missed out on all the motivation of those Games and subsequently retired from competition in my beloved sport too soon. In subsequent years I have participated in numerous Olympic Games (on the production side) to try to make up for the lost dream. Although I don't have a medal, I do have an Olympic diploma signed by Jacques Rogge on my wall.
Now there is talk of the U.S. boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and as a gay athlete, the reasoning hits me right in the heart. Putin has begun an all-out war on LGBT citizens of Russia. The new "homosexual propaganda" law even targets tourists. He has confirmed to the International Olympic Committee that he will not back down on his policies during the Games, and the IOC has yet to decide to take a stand against him.
Athletes work hard for their Olympic dream every waking moment of their day. They suffer setbacks along the way, they push through the impossible, they challenge their own limits, and they survive brutal competition to get to that elite level. Unlike swimmers, gymnasts (my breed) rarely have more than one chance, because of the abuse to the body, which is true of many sports. Politics should not get in the way of their dreams, yet we have heard a plea by our LGBT brothers and sisters in Russia who are living in dangerous times. As an advocate for gay rights, I'm stuck in a quandary: Do we seize the opportunity to demonstrate the importance of human rights now and perhaps change history, even if this means jeopardizing the dreams of our athletes?
The question goes even deeper for me, as it also affects my business. I am a successful international businessman who, in the past two years, has opened nearly 20 fitness franchises in Russian territories. Some of our high-profile employees there are gay, and now they have to watch for their lives. On my last trip to Moscow, I heard a story firsthand of a young man who was beaten to death in a smaller province for being out as gay. I now fear for my employees' lives and feel that something must be done.
Greg Louganis is an American national hero who feels that the U.S. should not boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics but instead utilize the opportunity to mobilize the international community around an important issue of our day. Of course, this will require courage by the organizers and athletes of the Games, and the support of the mainstream media (whose sponsors may not want them to cover the controversy).
The answer lies in solidarity. However, the world of sports is still largely homophobic. As a gay athlete who has experienced bigotry in sports firsthand, I know the courage it would take for athletes to take a stand for their teammates while in Russia. Without the strong support of the IOC, this is not likely to happen, as the simple act of wearing a rainbow pin is an act of propaganda according to Putin. If the discrimination were based on race or gender in this day and age, this would not even be a conversation; luckily, as a society, we've largely moved past overt sexism or racism. However, since this discrimination is based on sexual identity, it is more complicated. Gay being OK is still a very new thing in America and is just now being addressed in sports.
If we do not condemn, we condone. As hard as it is to say this, I must disagree with the venerable Mr. Louganis. Now is the time to stand up and right a wrong. I think that the U.S. Olympic Committee should expeditiously threaten to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics and encourage other countries to join in. International sponsors will threaten to pull out, and then Jacque Rogge and the IOC will be forced to take up Canada's confirmed offer to have the Games moved to Vancouver. This solution would allow the athletes to compete and would send a message loud and clear to the homophobic parts of our world.
In English, "gay" means "joyful," and those of us who are native English speakers are just getting back to remembering that. Unfortunately, the same does not hold true in the Russian language, and if Putin gets his way, one could be fined and jailed just for asking.
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