Threats of terrorist attacks and an atmosphere perceived by many as homophobic create distractions that could negatively affect the performance of athletes competing in the Sochi Winter Games, according to a kinesiology professor and Olympic researcher.
“These are concerns that I think athletes need not have on their plate,” said Scott Martyn, who has attended more than a dozen summer and winter Olympic Games, including London, Beijing, Vancouver and Atlanta.
The games kick off tomorrow and Russia is on high-alert in the wake of threats issued by Al-Qaeda and recent bombings in the country. Russia recently passed legislation that bans what it calls “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and there’s growing pressure from heavyweights like phone giant AT&T who are calling on the International Olympic Committee to make a statement on the issue.
Dr. Martyn, who is co-author of Selling the Five Rings: The IOC and the Rise of Olympic Commercialism, said there’s a clear conflict between the Olympic charter, which opposes discrimination, and Russia’s anti-gay legislation. While it’s difficult for the IOC to step in to a country’s internal issues, it needs to issue a pronouncement on this one, he said.
“Unfortunately they step back and say it’s an internal issue that does not affect the games,” he said. “I would argue that it does indeed affect the games, and it affects a number of athletes who are participating. These athletes have worked for seven to 10 years for a single moment and if they have a distractor like this, it can affect their performance and I don’t think that’s appropriate for the athletes who have worked that hard.”
While issues of corruption, discrimination terrorism and security will dominate the games, the Olympics provide the rest of the world with an opportunity to collectively reflect on them, Martyn said.
These issues are “reflective of events going on in the global community and they tend to play themselves out at the Olympic Games,” he said. “The Olympics give us a unique opportunity to see who we are as a civilization. You don’t get another opportunity to actually look at the world’s community in one place and use that as an analysis to understand who we are.”