I am not a risk-taker. I do not bungee-jump. I don't participate in extreme sports. I wear a seat-belt. I floss (I'm really into flossing).
And yet, I'm going to the Sochi Winter Olympics.
At the time I agreed to go, there were known problems, yes. Mostly tales of massive corruption in the construction of the Olympic venues. I could shrug that off, since at least these weren't my tax dollars being squandered. Later, concerns emerged that the hasty construction of Olympic venues has greatly damaged the fragile environment surrounding Sochi. This hits me where I live. It's sickening, and tragic.
But the first big indication that these Games might not go smoothly was the passage of Russia's anti-gay bill, the one that bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" (meaning, talking about homosexuality pretty much at all), emboldened fascist thugs who get their kicks from gay bashing, and has driven many of Russia's gays back into the shadows.
This has led to a range of responses, from calls to boycott, the interesting selection of the official US delegation, which includes three openly gay athletes—Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow, and Brian Boitano, some really fabulous uniforms from the German team:
--and a lot of unanswered questions. President Putin has assured gay athletes and spectators that they are in no danger of running afoul of Russia's laws, as long as they “leave the children in peace,” but the definition of "propaganda" under this law is pretty vague. Would a same-sex couple holding hands be disseminating propaganda? How about simply stating support for gay marriage?
I had to ask myself, do I go, or not go? I strongly support gay marriage. If anybody asks me, I'm going to tell them that, no matter where I am.
Here's hoping no one will ask.
Well, not to worry, the mayor of Sochi says there are no gay people living in the city, leading opposition leader Boris Nemtsov to wonder how Sochi's several gay bars stayed in business.
Here's a great article from The Atlantic, "How Sochi Became the Gay Olympics," which includes SNL's solution to one potential problem: an all-heterosexual Team USA figure-skating squad.
But Sochi's identity as the "Gay Olympics" seems to be short-lived. Now these Games are being labeled the "Terrorist Olympics" because of repeated credible threats by Chechen rebels and Islamic separatists. Groups have already staged attacks in Volgograd, a city some 430 miles northeast of Sochi, blowing up train stations and busses, killing more than 40 people and injuring over 100. There are security alerts in Sochi about "Black Widows," widows of militants who have vowed revenge for their husband's death and who may already be in the city.
One security expert has stated that "it’s not a matter of whether there will be some incident, it’s just a matter of how bad it’s going to be.” UK officials are warning that terror attacks are "very likely." In response, Putin has vowed that the Olympics will be safe and that a security "Ring of Steel" surrounds the city and the Olympic venues. The US, meanwhile, has stationed warships close by to evacuate American nationals in case of emergency.
But, on the other hand…the US State Department's advisory is the same for the Olympics as it is for Americans traveling to Russia in general. There are areas to avoid, some of which are uncomfortably close to Sochi. You should maintain situational awareness at all times. It's probably not a great idea to get smashed on vodka toasts and stumble around town. Okay, the State Department didn't say that specifically, but you know, it's still good advice.
In the same article I linked to above, a different security expert offers an opposing view. Yes, radicals will try to stage an attack. But they lack organization and resources, and the best thing we can all do is, "keep calm and carry on."
“It's like taking a journey by car; there is a genuine risk of an accident, even if you do everything right,” Galeotti wrote in an email from Russia. “You do everything you can to make sure you are not doing anything to increase the risk; you take what precautions you can to minimize the impact of any potential risk (e.g., wear a seatbelt), but ultimately you have to swallow that danger and drive on. That is how you cope with this appreciable, but not high, terrorist threat.”That's really the only way I can live my life. I don't take stupid risks, but there are risks inherent in just living. I can't let fear stop me from experiencing what life has to offer.
Of course, I will be sure to pack my lucky flying T-shirt and magical good luck travel charm…
Lisa…every other Wednesday...