Olympic protests, boycotts and German team uniforms

Joey LeBlanc 

Melbourne, Moscow and Montreal – the Olympics are no stranger to boycotts. The controversy surrounding Russia’s anti-gay laws has led many to question whether Sochi will become the latest boycotted games. Taking less drastic actions that send a bold message may be the best approach.

In 2007, Sochi, Russia was awarded the honour of hosting the 2014 winter Olympics. Since, the city has been undergone massive reconstruction to prepare for thousands of athletes, fans and the media.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, signed a law in June that prohibited the promotion of nontraditional (men and women) sexual relationships to minors. “This law has also been interpreted as banning gay pride parades and preventing any discussion of homosexuality among teenagers” says Kathy Lally, of the Washington Post.

The law sparked attention among athletes and spectators who feared discrimination or jail time for expressing their beliefs or sexuality. Russia responded by claiming that they were not violating Olympic anti-discrimination principles. However, the worldwide media did not agree.

Since June there have been efforts from athletes to protest the anti-gay law. The latest and boldest action was made by the German Olympics team. On October 2, they revealed their 2014 Winter Olympic uniforms featuring rainbow colours. It has yet to be confirmed (or denied) whether it’s a silent protest against the anti-gay law.

The designer of the uniforms, Willy Bogner, stated that he wanted to pay homage to the 1972 Munich Summer Games and aimed for a “celebratory design, inspired by the great atmosphere of the times.” However, commentary online deemed the uniforms a clear political statement.

If Germany’s uniforms are a political statement, perhaps other countries should also find creative ways to protest instead of a boycott. Many protests have been vocal requesting high profile athletes to not participate in the games, including Canada.

A Halifax based petition pleads for the withdrawal of the 2014 Men’s Olympic Hockey team from the games. The petitioner, Andrew Neville wrote: “The Canadian men’s hockey team is possibly the highest profile group of athletes appearing at the games, and also the ones who have the least to lose by not appearing.” The petition was sent to Steve Yzerman, the Executive Director of Hockey Canada.

Unsuccessfully, governments have tried to reason with residents that boycotting the Olympics is not the answer. Refusing to attend would punish athletes who have devoted their lives to training – not force Russia to change their law. Following the actions of Germany, the best statement could be made in Russia. However, only time – and perhaps the opening ceremonies – will tell.