Whilst exaggeration of realities and the hypocrisy of individuals and governments has been unhelpful in the condemnation of Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law, the Olympic games is playing host to ever–familiar silencing techniques. What is more, they are being deployed in the name of ‘peace, solidarity and dialogue’, contradictory appeals to emotion and cultural compartmentalisation.
Poland’s second president and unionist, Lech Wałęsa writes, ‘[a]thletes, who have been working hard since childhood and making numerous sacrifices to win an Olympic medal, should not be made to bare the brunt of political conflicts.’ (1)
Here a fiction of victimisation is created to persuade readers to empathise with imaginary athletes held hostage by political issues which could not possibly concern them. There are certainly some athletes who have anti-gay opinions or who are indifferent to these issues but pressure will not bow to bigots or the ambivalence of the privileged. The battleground is everywhere. Oppression does not pause for the pole vault.
Besides, who was expecting Lech Wałęsa to fight for gay rights anyway? Despite the insulting fact that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, this is a man who has said, ‘I believe those [gay] people need medical treatment … imagine if all people were like that. We wouldn’t have any descendants.’ Wałęsa’s contribution to the trampling of human rights (his literal gay propaganda) greets passengers of Poland’s LOT Airlines, for the in-flight magazine, Kaleidoscope. Perhaps more fittingly, in 2013 he remarked that ‘they [people who are gay] have to know that they are a minority and adjust to smaller things, and not rise to the greatest heights’. Sense a sinister ulterior motive to his wish to ‘just get on with the games’?
The standard ‘oh, please keep quiet and respect the athletes’ method of silencing relies on convincing people that there are two worlds; ‘the sports world’ (of good, wholesome [read: straight] ‘fun’ and ‘unity’) and ‘everything else’, including the lives of legally, materially and symbolically less valuable people.
Of course, Wałęsa does not bother to back up his characterisation of ‘[a]thletes, who have been working hard since childhood’. It is a pity-seeking allusion to innocence and determination that homogenises athletes and assumes their (his) heterosexual prioritising of ‘sports before rights’.
What those spouting similar bile to Wałęsa want us to forget is: everything is political. Things are only hidden when you are privileged enough to overlook the rights of some to maintain your personal contentment.
We can call it ‘exclusive solidarity’. Basically, the ship’s full, the drinks are flowing and the voices of people drowning are spoiling the atmosphere. Therefore, to keep the party rocking ‘we’ need to ignore the disruption, trot out some us/them victim cards and tug on the emotions – ‘cause you know, we’re all in this together!
‘Let’s keep our fingers crossed for them [athletes] and leave anything not related to sports out of it’, writes Wałęsa.
This is a false reality. The self-serving division between a ‘sports world’ and a ‘political world’ fails to address the intersectionality of the lives and opinions of LGBTQ* athletes and allies. Evidently Wałęsa does not care for the actual thoughts of athletes; he speaks for them: ‘They want to represent their countries with pride, break records and stretch the limits of human endurance.’ And that’s it, I guess? If I were to speak for someone, I would say that Wałęsa aims to stretch the limits of human ignorance, marginalising the lives of millions of Russians in the process.
Former NBA player, turned psychologist and broadcaster, John Amaechi says, ‘I’m so tired of the Olympics being able to hide behind this ‘we are not political’ banner at the same time as being intensely political, within their internal politics or the way they manoeuvre within politics’, as quoted in The Guardian (2).
Meanwhile Wałęsa, who remains a prominent public figure, is just one example of those working to shutdown the conversation as his remarks typify the bulk of those attempting to minimise LGBTQ* issues, because hey, sport makes ‘me’ feel globally connected. As an argument it probably sounds quite appealing, unless you have more compassion for the lives of ‘others’ than you do for an illusion that the world is a finished project. What is more is that, whilst Lech Wałęsa is notorious in Poland, and beyond, for such remarks, the wider concern is the brevity of this easily digestible logic; how thoroughly infectious it is to claim that people pushing a gay rights agenda ought to shut up because sports are more important. Indeed, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) has been playing the same card, stating that the Olympics are not the place for ‘proactive political or religious demonstration’. (3)
The childhoods’ of LGBTQ* youth, and all lives compromised by cultures of heteronormativity, simply do not factor into the distractionary, undermining rhetoric being played out on a global scale. Why would they? Nationalism + sport = protests-on-hold, right?
The heterospectacle must be reinforced, is the message, or else ‘they’ will ruin ‘our’ games. The term ‘heterospectacle’ refers to the centering as well as aggrandising of heterosexuality via media and culture more broadly, of which the Olympics Games is used as a powerful vehicle for those who wish to silence ‘others’.
Instead, how about people whose biggest worry is that they keep hearing about gay rights issues at Sochi let people get on with it. I mean, if resistance is bothersome, attack the roots – oppression. Otherwise all you are saying is, ‘this is more important than your lives’. And people have been hearing that all their lives.
Perhaps it is they, Wałęsa et al, who should ‘keep out of it’.