BY SHAWN ABUHOFF – Every two years we are graced with the presence of either the Winter or Summer Olympics. The Olympic games are a time when the world’s greatest athletes are on display as countries from all ends of the earth come together to indulge in some friendly competition. It is also a time for a designated country to host these games. Many see hosting the games as a way for a country to generate extra income for its country or rejuvenate a specific area of the country. One thing is for sure, throughout the time that a country is hosting the Olympic games, the world draws its attention to that one location of the world as if placing it under a spotlight.
This years Winter Olympics not only introduced the world to Sochi, Russia, a “sleepy seaside town,” but it also introduced us to the laws governing this seaside town. In an overshadowing fashion, attention was taken away from the highest athletic stage and focused on Russia’s adoption of a law banning “gay propaganda.” Specifically, the law bans the “spreading of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’ among minors.” Adoption of the law has caused a major outcry from much of the western world as “athletes and visitors attending the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics would be subject to arrest should they exhibit any pro-gay tendencies.” And there were arrests, as was the case of Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender former member of parliament of Italy. Luxuria was arrested for carrying a flag with the words “Its OK to be gay” while trying to enter into an Olympic venue. The world had a front row seat to witness discrimination at its finest and it overshadowed the $51 billion spectacle that was the Sochi Olympics.
As a direct result of the situation in Sochi, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made an addition to its Olympic Charter. The IOC will now require that future host cities abide by a new rule that forbids any kind of discrimination. “The new clause requires the host city and national Olympic committee to [sign an agreement that states that the host will] conduct all activities in a manner which promotes and enhances the fundamental principles and values of Olympism, in particular the prohibition of any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise, as well as the development of the Olympic Movement.’”
Perhaps this seems to be a message of warning to future host cities that violation of this anti-discriminatory policy will not be tolerated, but a major question emerges as to who will hold the IOC responsible for holding a violating host city accountable? The IOC, a non-governmental organization, has no ability to negotiate treaties and is not required to follow them. So who or what can force the IOC to strictly abide by this new policy of holding host cities accountable for having discriminatory policies in place? It seems to me that if the IOC, a non-profit organization, was financially dedicated to have a certain city host the Olympics, then discriminatory policy in place or not, that city will host the Olympics. However, as the Sochi Olympics have shown, the image of the Olympics is very important to the IOC. It is also very important to corporate sponsors, who want the image of their companies broadcasted around the world. If the IOC chose a host city where human rights violations were taking place and it became public knowledge as it did in Sochi, the hope would be that corporate sponsors would turn and run far away from being tied to the image of discriminatory practices.
If sponsors were to abandon the Olympics it potentially would cease to exist. Therefore, the IOC would be held accountable if it didn’t follow its own policy. Perhaps the fear of losing millions and potentially its existence will keep the IOC to their word. However, what would incentivize corporate sponsors’ to not sponsor the Olympic games? There may not be a bigger advertising market in the world and if a corporation didn’t give their millions, perhaps another corporation will just take their place as a sponsor.
So where are we? It’s established that the IOC needs corporate sponsors to survive, but would the sponsors even be willing to take out their money and risk loosing so much exposure? Only time will tell if the IOC will stay true to this new contract provision, but if they don’t, who will hold them accountable?