There is a saying that history repeats itself, and it’s looking a lot like 1968 going into the upcoming Sochi Olympic Games.
After winning in the 200m event at the ’68 summer games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, African-American athletes, donned black gloves and raised their fists during the U.S. national anthem in a display of what seemed to be black power but was later explained to represent support of all humans’ rights. Their act of defiance was heard throughout the world.
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed controversial laws banning all lesbian and gay propaganda. This, along with an increase in violent actions directed at LGBT residents, is shaping Russia and the upcoming Olympics to mimic the controversial ’68 games.
Putin tried to quell tensions by stating he will welcome all athletes despite sexual orientation but the attempts fell on deaf ears. Many countries called for protests of the winter games.
The United States reacted by appointing openly gay delegates to represent the country in the Olympic delegation as President Obama will not attend. These appointments have been viewed as retaliation against Putin, who has constantly opposed and critiqued Obama.
Rainbow colors are also being incorporated into some athletes’ uniforms with most countries claiming the symbolism is just a coincidence. The most notable rainbow color scheme belongs to the jackets of Russian volunteers, which is surely just coincidental.
Putin set up designated protest zones miles from the main Olympic stadiums. These zones will be protected by Olympic security, but it seems they will unfortunately be the constant target of violence due to escalating feelings of anti-LGBT rights reverberating throughout Russia.
I don’t believe countries would really boycott the games, but there are many athletes on record who are pro-LGBT rights. The likelihood that an athlete takes a stand is high, and whatever it is, it will surely go viral thanks to the immediacy of social media.
LGBT rights aren’t the only hotbed at the upcoming games. Recent terrorist attacks and an open threat to disrupt the Olympics by Chechen Islamist militant Doku Umarov loom ahead.
Putin swears the Olympic security will be ironclad and the Olympic village and venues will have the highest level of security. Unfortunately, despite his assurances, the United States issued a warning to all of its citizens traveling to Russia.
I believe Putin will take every measure to assure the safety of the games, and although Umarov made repeated threats, I think the security of citizens and athletes will remain in tact with cooperation from other nations.
For LGBT rights, any act of support during the Olympics is going to explode across social media. The big question is how it will be received. I think anything that happens will be a step toward LGBT acceptance, and in a few years this human rights movement will be viewed similarly as the civil rights movement of the past.
History certainly seems to be cyclical. The events of the past are repeating themselves, this time with a different cast of characters. All that’s left to do is wait to see how they play out.