By Igor Kleyner
Olympic rings at the Sochi airport. (Photo credit: Alexey Maishev)
For the record, Peter makes awesome videos, both in style and substance.
Also for the record, the recent law passed by the Russian Duma banning so-called propaganda of nontraditional relations to minors is hideous. Not necessarily because the Russian authorities in Sochi will be arresting athletes, journalists, or foreign spectators who are gay or show support for the gay rights cause by wearing a rainbow lapel pin – because they will not, and anybody who thinks otherwise does not understand a thing about Russia. And not because a gay teenager playing hockey somewhere in Ryazan or Ekaterinburg will now be prevented from coming out to his teammates – believe me, that kid is facing other, much more serious problems in his life, like getting through another day without being beaten into a bloody pulp. Will the law contribute to worsening of the public attitude towards gay rights? For sure. Will it be used against someone whose words or action rub the government the wrong way? Perhaps, but so could any other law in Russia. In my opinion, the real victims in this mess could be the many thousands of gay parents in Russia, who will now live their lives in fear of losing their children, adopted or biological. In their cases, how in the world do you avoid violating the aforementioned law – aren’t parents supposed to be role models for their kids, especially when they are minors?
Having said that, the current spectacle surrounding this important issue is nothing short of amazing – and not in a good way. As the national teams on both sides of the ocean attend their ice-deprived gatherings, everybody in the media seems to be obsessed with finding out what the players think about the law. And while the comments from the North American players are largely along the lines of what we expect from the guys who grew up in Canada and the USA over the last couple of decades, the responses from Russian players have already produced a wave of criticism. Pavel Datsyuk (somewhat awkwardly) blazed the trail by pointing to his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs, while Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t mince the words and endorsed the measure wholeheartedly. So far Alex Ovechkin has largely avoided stepping into it, as he got an easy question: he was only asked to comment on boycott rumors, and nobody is seriously advocating that. And these were the questions they were getting while enjoying home-ice advantage! One can only expect the heat to rise when the Russians make their way across the Atlantic – surely they will not be allowed to get away with a no-comment then? And why should they be, right?
The law surely is a nasty piece of legislation. But it does not criminalize the homosexual relations, which used to be illegal and punishable by harsh sentences in Soviet Russia. Those are still very much illegal in a certain country in our own American neighborhood, where engaging in such activity, even between two consenting adults, could result in a lengthy jail term. That’s right, doing it on the beautiful island of Jamaica should land you for up to 10 years in an all-inclusive resort of government choosing, and it’s not going to be Sandals. So, have we heard from Usain Bolt on this subject? Surely he has given an interview – or a thousand – in his career… Still looking…
Or even better yet – how about another country where they are clearly not concerned with such fine details as gay propaganda to minors? I am talking about United Arab Emirates – if men get caught in action there, the options for the government to “straighten” them out range from a prison term or chemical castration if they are lucky, to the death sentence if they are not. Yep, that’s what they do in Dubai, the adopted home of the great Roger Federer. Isn’t he in New York City playing tennis right now? I am sure he is going to be grilled by the media on why he chose to move to a country with such hideous human rights record, right? In fact, the annual Dubai Tennis Championship was held just a few short months ago, and FedEx was right there, along with a bunch of other ATP stars from all over the world. Did the issue ever come up? Somehow I doubt that.
If the players want to express their opinion on this or any other political issue – by all means, let them do that and live with the consequences. But if they choose not to – or respond with something along the lines of “Our job is to play hockey”, I hope they are not pressured or subjected to scorn and ridicule. Otherwise this wave of highly selective moral outrage will only detract from a legitimate and important issue.
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