It’s not all fun and games at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The games, hosted by Russia in the city of Sochi, have recently become embroiled in controversy due to Russia’s harsh anti-gay laws, which include on signed by Putin on June 30 this year that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” which has led to violations of fundamental (and constitutionally-protected) rights of gay Russians. It has also contributed to the deeply homophobic environment in Russian society, which has led to increased violent attacks on gay and lesbian Russian citizens (Grekov, 2013).
Unfortunately, this human rights issue has eclipsed the sportsmanship and excitement of the Olympics for many-myself included. As someone who does not ever avidly follow the Olympics, I have heard little about the games this year other than the gay rights controversy. This is, in my opinion, pretty bad PR for the games themselves. However, many athletes have found ways to protest these laws. Now, corporate brands are getting in on the action.
Media giant Google, known as much for its search engine as it is for its ever-changing online logo, changed its logo Thursday with a nod not only to the Olympic Games, but to the gay rights controversy by featuring images of athletes presented against the backdrop of a rainbow flag. This simple but bold move, featured on the Russian site as well, was accompanied with a statement from the company to drive the message home: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play,” (Peterson, 2014).
Google is not the only corporate powerhouse to stand up against Russia. AT&T released an online statement February 4, with slightly more aggressive language: “We support [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] equality globally and we condemn violence, discrimination and harassment targeted against LGBT individuals everywhere. Russia’s law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it’s harmful to a diverse society,” (Peterson, 2014).
These statements followed ambiguous statements from Olympic advertisers McDonald’s and Coca Cola, companies that released statements supportive of gay rights, but were cautious of making direct accusations against Russia. The statements released by Google and AT&T were bold but powerful in their simplicity and directness. It is refreshing to see such support from corporations that take risks to support human rights (Crary, 2014).
Crary, David. (2014, February 5).More Olympic-linked furor over Russia anti-gay law.Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/sochi-complaints-russia-anti-gay-law-22373994
Grevok, Kres. (2013, August 8). Russia’s anti-gay law, spelled out in plain English. Retrieved from http://www.policymic.com/articles/58649/russia-s-anti-gay-law-spelled-out-in-plain-english.
Peterson, Tim. (2014, February 6). Google joins pre-Olympic protest of Russia’s anti-gay law. Retrieved from http://adage.com/article/digital/google-joins-pre-olympic-protest-russia-s-anti-gay-law/291579/.