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Olympic SportsSports & Politics

The Arrest Of Four Activists In St. Petersburg Today Is Everything That’s Wrong With The Sochi Olympics

vladimir putin olympics

Four Olympic protesters — or, as they’re being called, LGBT activists — were arrested in St. Petersburg on Friday for unfurling a banner in public. All four are currently being detained and have not been charged.

I hesitate to call them LGBT activists only because what they did could barely be described as “LGBT activism.” The banner they held quotes the Olympic Charter, specifically Principle 6 — “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement.” A similar quote from the Charter can be found on the Google homepage right now. If Google was a person, he or she would likely be in prison for “demonstrating without prior permission.”

As the host and a participant in these Olympic Games, Russia ostensibly agrees to uphold the Olympic Charter the same way they do their own constitution. But this expression of human rights (of which gay rights is surely a part) proved too much for Russian authorities, who will likely consider this a violation of their open-ended anti-gay propaganda law.

(Ironically, this law appears to be more inclusive than Russia itself. What is “propaganda”? A purposely vague word that can mean holding signs, holding hands, stating beliefs or perhaps listening to a gay artist’s music a little too loudly in your bedroom.)

Additionally, the four protesters were arrested almost immediately by Russian police, which leads some to believe that authorities knew about the protest ahead of time — perhaps via phone tapping or surveillance cameras.

Most of the horror stories surrounding Sochi and the start of the Olympics concern the incomplete state the area’s hotels and uncovered manholes. But these arrests are the true cause for alarm. Not only are four people currently being detained on unclear and unjust charges, but they were likely spied upon by government officials in advance. We already knew that electronic communications in Russia are monitored and that tourists also being watched while they shower.

The incident in St. Petersburg is a culmination of our worst fears leading up to the Games, outside of a terrorist attack. For months Russia has attempted to convince the world that they are a modern, progressive nation. In fact, little has changed from the days of the Soviet regime. Ask Pussy Riot about freedom of expression in today’s Russia.

Unfortunately, who knows what will happen to stories like these once the games start in earnest? The right thing to do would be to go back in time and refuse to award the Games to a nation so clearly at odds with everything the Olympics stand for. Barring that impossibility, we should be using this opportunity to shed light on the injustices that run rampant throughout the host nation.

But we have already handed over the keys to our hearts. We are too wrapped up in watching figure skating and luge to take a stand. Will anyone care about citizens being monitored and arrested when Shaun White is dropping into the halfpipe? Already, the Opening Ceremony has the world enraptured while four outspoken people wait in prison for their fates to be decided. Bread and circus trump the real issues every time.

We’ll keep you updated on the status of these four protesters when more information becomes available.

Photo via Getty

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