Will you watch the Winter Olympics? To be honest, I haven’t thought about it much. Besides the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony, I rarely follow any Olympic game. It seems that the LGBT community remains divided about what it should do. There has been no one to lead us in saying “No! I’m sick and tired and I won’t take it anymore.”
The three bidders for the 22nd Winter Olympics were Austria, South Korea, and Russia. Russia won the bid in 2007. Could anyone have guessed in 2007 how the present state of affairs has come to pass? Probably not. Would Austria have been a wiser choice? Probably so. At the time, South Korea was being threatened by North Korea, so that choice seemed unwise at the time. The fact remains that this is the first time since 1980 that an Olympics has been held in what is now Russia.
As the vice president of the New Jersey Prime Timers, I decided to pose the question, “As a gay/bisexual/gay-friendly person, will you be watching the Winter Olympics?” to a few members via e-mail two days before the opening night on February 7. The Prime Timers is a social organization for older gay, bisexual, and transgender men, so I was eager to hear what gay men aged 50 and older thought about the situation in Russia.
Phil wrote, “Yes, I will be watching the Olympics. But not as a gay/bisexual, gay-friendly person, but as an American who supports our Olympic athletes.” Gordon wrote “Jav and I totally agree with Phil’s comment.”
Rob wrote, “Ralph: I always watch the Olympics.”
Another friend wrote: “I do not have time to watch Olympics regardless of orientation, age, gender, or sex. I only like bowling or baseball. My free time is limited and I would not waste it on watching television games.”
Two men replied that they are “American, Jewish, New Jersey natives, veterans, Republicans, taxpayers, and gay.” They said that being gay is only a part of who they are, and they don’t live life any differently solely because they happen to be gay. That said, neither really hasn’t decided if he will see the games or not, but both assure me that if they do watch them, they won’t feel as if they are doing anything wrong, since the Olympics is about sportsmanship.
Another wrote in his e-mail that he believes that having the games in Russia, with no guarantees for the athlete’s safety, is asking for trouble. He believes that at least a few athletes, members of the press, or television technicians will be arrested, causing an international fracas. He is also a veteran, and believes the United States should have taken a stronger stand and boycotted the games. He blames President Obama for being a weak leader.
Jim wrote about what he and his partner, Bruce, would do. “No we won’t be watching, but it’s not necessarily about the boycott. We have lost interest in these media-frenzy-type things long ago. If we watch anything it will probably be via internet live streaming. We won’t be tuning into NBC in any event.”
Luis said, “Yes, I will. Not watching the games only impacts NBC. Putin will not be impacted by a viewing boycott. I see nothing that TV viewers could do to push Putin to change or soften his hateful policy. Clearly, the IOC cares nothing about the situation, but NBC would suffer and they are fairly supportive of our rights.”
My friend Ken is a bit younger than the rest of the guys. Ken is in his 40s. He had a very well- reasoned response. Ken wrote that, “yes, I do plan on watching the games in Sochi. I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics since I was a kid.”
Ken wrote that he understands the concerns over Russia’s policies against gays. “The U.S. has done a fine job of expressing its disapproval of those policies. Our President declined the invitation to attend the games, and he is sending openly gay representatives to the games. A statement has been made for all of us, so that shouldn’t interfere with the accomplishment of the athletes or the spirit of the games.”
Ken continued, “If people want to make a personal statement, they should refrain from traveling to or doing business with Russia, or they should write to the Olympic Committee. Why keep from watching the games and hurt the sponsors of the Games? They’re contributing an enormous amount of money to support an event which celebrates human achievement and world unity. That’s not such a bad thing. It’s just that people aren’t perfect.”
Ralph Malachowski is Vice President of the New Jersey Prime Timers, a chapter of an international social club for men. He reviews shows and books for Out In Jersey magazine.