In less than six months a nation that criminally charges anyone who speaks about homosexuality will host the Winter Olympics. Sochi, Russia, the subtropical host city for 2014 winter event will host thousands of athletes from around the world.
The new anti-gay laws in Russia have some in the LGBT community suggesting a boycott. But Rennae Stubbs, a four-time Olympian, retired tennis star and lesbian, argues against such a move.
Stubbs says it is wrong to punish the athletes who have worked their entire lives to make it to the Olympics. Instead, LGBT athletes can hold the host nation accountable by performing.
“As an Olympian, I lived my dream. But if you had asked me to make a choice between my sexuality – part of the core of my very being that goes to who I will love – and my love of my sport and the dream I had held since I was a child, I would ask, ‘Why me?’ ‘Why take away my dream?'”
Stubbs argues host nations should be held more accountable. Instead of athletes boycotting host nations, she argues the International Olympic Committee should not consider potential host nations that do not embrace equality. Would countries change their laws if they knew they missed an opportunity because of them?
Encouragement for LGBT athletes is reminiscent of the participation of black athletes in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, when Jesse Owens exposed the Third Reich’s ignorance with each of his four gold medals.
Some fear gay athletes will face criminal prosecution if they were to, say, kiss their partner after winning a medal. With the world watching it would be a losing effort for Russia to persecute a foreign athlete. The last thing a host nation wants is a negative political story dominating the Games.
With loud, popular support around the world protecting them, gay Olympic athletes will have an opportunity to change the way homosexuality is seen in sports. The world is starting to meet a few of its gay big-time athletes, but we are still waiting for a proud, popular, gay face to step forward. In a place so backward and at a time so eager to embrace, here’s hoping gay Olympians listen to Stubbs advice and compete with unyielding transparency.