Russia has been in the news lately, and
not in a good way, because of the country’s recent crackdown on the
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
A new law,
championed by President Vladimir Putin, outlaws rallies and public
support of the gay community -- no rainbow flags are allowed in public,
for example -- and the head of the Russian Orthodox church publicly
compared gay marriage to nothing short of the apocalypse.
media has played a part in bringing the issue to light internationally,
sparking debate on what impact this hard-line attitude could have on
the Olympic Winter Games to be held in Sochi, Russia, in February.
ski area is slated to host 15 of some of the most popular winter sports
in the Games, including alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ski
jumping, snowboarding, speed skating and figure skating.
the Games is a big deal for the region, as it marks the first time the
event will be held in Russia (technically, the 1980 Moscow Olympics took
place in the Soviet Union). But even though some Russian politicos are
backpedaling on the extent to which the law would apply to tourists
during the Games, fans and athletes are understandably worried. After
all, saying gay visitors won’t be prosecuted for merely being gay, as
long as they don’t proselytize in the streets, is a long way from saying
Some LGBT activists are
urging an international boycott of the Games, while others are refusing
to buy Russian products, including vodka. Tour operator IsramWorld last week said it would no longer accept new bookings for Russia because of its anti-gay law.
the Olympic Committee and NBC, which will broadcast the event, have
both come under fire for not taking a stronger stance on the
controversy, some athletes are against a boycott. American Olympic
figure skater Johnny Weir, for example, whose husband is a Russian
skater, has said he plans to attend, hoping his mere presence will
inspire local gays and lesbians in their own cause.
biggest losers if the firestorm does adversely impact tourism could be
the Black Sea resort of Sochi itself, which is also poised to host the
G8 summit and the inaugural Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2014
(although a deadline snafu has put the auto race in question).
resort appeals to both summer and winter visitors, and tourism
officials are hoping it could become a beach and ski playground for
international travelers. The hotel
scene is growing to meet anticipated demand. Radisson Blu has a property
there, for example, and Swissotel Hotels & Resorts is opening a
mountain and beach property in Sochi in time for the Winter Olympics.
Although it’s unclear what the resolution will be, this story will be one to watch over the next few months.