Sochi 2014: Activists urge sponsors to break silence

Activists gathered around the world on Wednesday calling for an end to Russia’s anti-gay laws, two days before the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in London to show a united front in support of a global speak out campaign urging Olympic sponsors to condemn Russia’s controversial anti-gay laws.

Mcdonald’s, Visa, Samsung and Coca-Cola, among many to sponsor the 2014 Winter Olympics, were pressured by activists and campaigners in over 20 cities to break their silence over the laws introduced last year in Russia.

Activist holding placard - Rachael Hesno photo

Protester holds a placard with a powerful message

Marie Campbell, a director at equality campaign group All Out, Peter Tatchell and a small delegation presented a banner to a nearby Mcdonald’s in Whitehall stating that 131,447 people had signed a petition calling on Olympic sponsors ‘to speak out now.’ They were greeted at the doors of the empty restaurant by Mcdonald’s UK Head of Communications.

TV presenter Paul O’Grady, among other speakers, passionately addressed activists at the event in London to shed light on the discrimination endured by many Russians for their sexual orientation. O’Grady said: “Gay men and women are afraid to leave their homes because they’re afraid they’re going to be abused, beaten up and imprisoned. They’re going to be killed.”

“We have to lobby the sponsors, we have to lobby Mcdonald’s, Visa and we have to lobby Coca-Cola. We have to kick-off on our government and the Russian government and stamp this out now. We have to speak out against this vicious hatred which is going on all around the world.”

In other parts of the world, protesters gathered to show their solidarity with the cause in cities including New York, Jerusalem, Paris and even in St. Petersburg, Russia, where activists held up placards in front of the Sochi Olympics countdown clock.

Event organisers called for those attending to ‘wear red for love’ and posters were available to print out from the All Out campaign page that read, ‘Russia, we’re with you. End anti-gay laws.’

“Discrimination is not an Olympic value.” Peter Tatchell and Marie Campbell addressed activists after the petition was handed into Mcdonald’s.

Karl Treacy, 34, London, who attended the event, said: “Whether or not this attempt to force sponsors to reconsider their sponsorship and involvement in Sochi will have any effect is something for which I can only hope. Of course, on the eve of the games it’s too late for that now and I don’t think any company would have the balls to do so nor would a company which already makes such money in the Russian market, as Coca-Cola does, attempt such a risky venture as it in turn would be boycotted in the market it was snubbing.”

Activist photo - Rachael Hesno

Activists at the London event

“I think we sometimes forget what an effect simply doing something, anything, can have, especially if it gains public attention and can help to change the greater opinion.”

“Anything, no matter how small, has the potential to incrementally bring about real change, and I think that this evening’s event was an important and necessary one.”

“As for the Olympics, no, I won’t be watching. Had the situation been different I would gladly have watched, but I can happily say that I have the courage of my convictions and will not be doing so. “

All Out have since emailed members about the impact the events have had: “It’s working. The huge corporation AT&T, a sponsor of the US Olympic Committee, had condemned Russia’s anti-gay law! Now one big sponsor has spoken out, the pressure is doubled on others.”

Amid the turmoil and outrage over anti-gay laws, claims of human rights violations and recent suicide attacks in Russia, the opening ceremony and games over the next few weeks in Sochi will be intensely observed. 

The question is, will you be watching the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics?


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