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THE GAMES ARE ON: World leaders boycott opening ceremony in protest of Russia

By Jimmy Onofrio
On February 6, 2014

The Olympic Games are traditionally a time of internati¬¬onal celebration - a chance to put politics aside and share in the spirit of athletic competition. The opening ceremony is a showcase of the host country's culture, with delegations from countries around the world adding to the spectacle. This year, however, many world leaders and dignitaries are boycotting the high-profile ceremony in protest of Russia's human rights record, specifically their treatment of the LGBT community.
Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, have come under fire during the last year for many issues leading up to this year's Games: treatment of indigenous peoples in the Caucasus region surrounding Sochi, how authorities have dealt with stray dogs in the city and, most recently, the poor state of hotels for visitors - to name a few. But the biggest backlash has come against a law passed by the Duma - Russia's legislature - in June, that restricted the rights of pro-LGBT groups to both promote equality and defend against discrimination.
The law included provisions preventing foreigners and foreign organizations from engaging in a wide variety of political activities without first registering as a "foreign agent." According to Human Rights Watch, such political activities include "countering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) discrimination," and "monitoring politically motivated human rights violations and providing assistance to victims."
Western countries have responded in various ways to the progression of events in Russia. German and French presidents Joachim Hauck and Francois Hollande have both stated they will not be attending the opening ceremony. Though neither gave an explicit reason for their absence, their recent criticisms of Russia's laws targeting LGBT groups suggest a connection.
U.S. President Barack Obama disagreed with the idea of a boycott, though neither he, Vice President Biden, nor any of his cabinet secretaries will attend the event. Obama named prominent gay American athletes to the delegation, such as Billie Jean King, who announced on Wednesday that she could not attend due to family issues.
Echoing Obama's stance, British Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that opposition to Russia's discriminatory laws would be better voiced by attending the event, as reported by The Guardian, a British news outlet. He compared it to a similar boycott that was suggested when Azerbaijan hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012. That country was vilified for human rights abuses and crackdowns on opposition political parties. Rather than boycott, Cameron and others argued that the international attention would bring the issues into broader focus and hopefully promote change.
As the Sochi Games begin, security concerns may outweigh social issues U.S. intelligence agencies are warning airlines destined for Russia about toothpaste explosives and other concealed implements. But the notable absence of foreign dignitaries and the ways Russia has decided to handle potential protests - by setting up sanctioned protesting areas - has cast attention on the human rights situation in one of the world's most influential states.
 


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