If you haven’t read Lydia’s post on this subject, please read it first. I agree with so much of what she’s written on the subject of the Sochi Olympics, and why their existence is problematic. And yet, I have been casually watching the Winter Olympics this year, for a few reasons I’ll articulate.
First of all, even just committing to “casual” is a huge step for me. There’s something I can’t reconcile in my head about being obsessed over these Olympics as I have been for Olympics past. And obsessed I have been: during the 2008 Summer Olympics, I watched during the start of my 1L year of law school, staying up far into the night when I should have been reading about Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, cheering Michael Phelps in the relays and screaming about track stars. But this Olympics doesn’t seem to warrant that prior obsession; despite the fact that my viewership has no bearing on Putin’s Russia, it somehow feels disingenuous to all of my LGBT friends to go haywire over some people skating against each other halfway across the world in the
rich white people Winter Olympics.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t care at all. And in fact, it is precisely because I do care that I have been watching. It is not the fault of the 2014 Winter Olympians that they have happened to reach the peak of their sport during this Olympic year in this country. Sochi was chosen as the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics long before any of them maybe even knew they had a shot. Sochi was even chosen before Russia implemented its extremely terrible LGBT laws. While I have little faith that the IOC would have done anything differently had they known these laws were coming, I think it is important to celebrate not only the U.S. athletes, but also athletes from around the world who made it to the Olympics despite the challenges (for many, those challenges are financial – it’s not like the Jamaican bobsledders or the Nepali luger really have a lot of access to government funding. For that matter, neither does the U.S. Olympic Team, which is why they have to get sponsors in the first place.)
I also feel compelled to support the Olympics because for almost all women’s sports (perhaps only excluding women’s soccer, which has the World Cup), the Olympics are literally the pinnacle of the sport. Right now is one of the only times that people actually pay attention to women in sports. The NHL does not have a women’s league. In fact, very few of the female athletes in these games have a professional league in which to compete – and get paid. (Certainly, there are sports, such as skiing and ice skating, that are not lacking for events during the year. Unfortunately, these are the exceptions to the rule.) Most of the athletes compete in college, and then they have to find something else to do to support their sport in the four years between Olympics. Some of them were even college athletes in one discipline who’ve been enticed to others, such as the track stars who join bobsleigh teams. (This is also why I strongly support the return of softball to the Summer Olympics. Whatever on baseball since MLB never lets the stars play anyway, but oh, softball, we need you back.) There are some professional women’s sports leagues around the world, but their defining characteristic, other than say, the LGPA, WTA and WNBA, is that players must work elsewhere during the off-season to make ends meet.
USA Women’s Hockey, Silver Medalists 2014
So, I’ve been watching: for female athletes, for whom this is their only shot, for all Olympic athletes, for whom this is their only shot, and for those who are competing for the pride of countries that don’t muck with human rights. And I’ll continue watching throughout the games, but don’t think I do it without pause.