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The Winter Olympics in Sochi: What’s the Humanist Reaction?


This year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is no exception to the continuing long-term failure to hold a global event free from political interference, despite unanimous UN support for the usual Olympic Truce approved before each set of games. The desire to create something truly humanistic that is above politics in the form of a “global ethic” of fair play is a goal that seems to always end in disappointment.

While past Olympic games have experienced everything from small symbolic protests to boycotts by multiple countries to terrorist killings, this year’s games bring with it a new issue over which to protest: LGBTQ rights. And this is just one part of a larger protest of Russian human rights issues that include locking up Greenpeace activists and members of Pussy Riot, the band that became world famous after being jailed following charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for a protest performance in a church.

Even though an estimated 20,000 political prisoners have been or will be released due to an amnesty provision recently passed by the Russian parliament, the move has been seen as a superficial effort led by Russian President Vladimir Putin to temporarily quell criticism while the world is focused on the country during the Olympics. Tatyana Lokshina, deputy director of the Moscow branch of Human Rights Watch, has called it a “PR move.”

Despite the negative attention to Russia’s larger human rights record on a range of issues, anti-LGBTQ laws and attitudes behind them are drawing the most worldwide attention. (The newest anti-LGBTQ law passed the Russian Duma by a vote of 436-0.) There is a push by some to boycott the Olympics completely based on continuing support for Russian anti-LGBTQ laws—a move some world leaders are exercising, including President Obama—but there are hopes for a variety of other kinds of protests taking place as well.

While humanists overwhelmingly support LGBTQ equality and fight hard all over the world in that effort, is it appropriate for humanists to attach the Olympics to that effort? If so, to what degree? What is the range of appropriate humanist reactions? What is a humanist to do?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Brian Magee, Communications AssociateBrian Magee is the communications associate for the American Humanist Association.

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