Public international reaction in the west has started to pick up pace with much condemnation and a call for an Olympic and Russian product boycott, predominantly vodka. A number of high profile gay activist such as Peter Tatchell (UK) and Dan Savage (US) and celebrities such as Harvey Fierstein have been very vocal about the need for a concerted international response that results in an end to the discriminatory laws. There have also been protests at Russian consulates around the world, with many LGBT action groups and advocates starting to mobilize support for using Sochi as a platform to bring attention the to the plight of the Russian LGBT community.
The response of the Olympic Committee has been minimal. They have tried to distance themselves politically from the human rights abuses and shown little concern for the targeted discrimination affecting millions of Russians. The IOC proved to be blind of eye and deaf of ear, by suggesting that foreign LGBT Olympic tourists should come to Sochi to have ‘a party of a time’ and celebrate the ‘Olympic Ideal’ while their Russian counterparts languish in state sanctioned homophobia. In fact the Olympic Committee focused on providing claimed assurances that athletes, supporters and media will be exempt and protected from the laws even though the Russian government has expressly stated the opposite. The IOC has shown that it is far behind western conventional wisdom on the topic of human rights, and seems to have very little understanding of the impact that effectively condoning such abuses will have on its brand value.
In general, the broader political response has been slow. The European Union and U.S. State Department has spoken out against the new laws, but for the most part leaders around the world have certainly been wary of taking a stance with both the Russian Government and the IOC in regard to their obligations to uphold and support basic human rights. There are however a couple of notable exceptions. In July 2013, Iceland announced that it was cutting ties with Russia over the new laws, this was the first international consequence. Also in July, Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vancouver, which held the previous Olympic Games, released a statement that was highly critical. This was followed later that same month by a blistering attack by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, branding the laws as ‘hateful’, along with the revelation that the Canadian Government had been trying to work with their Russian counterparts to put a stop to the new anti-gay laws.
Corporations directly connected with the situation through their ties with the IOC as sponsors or service providers have been decidedly quiet with no public statements made to date. There is no way to gauge if they oppose these abuses that presumably fly in the face of their Corporate Social Responsibility commitments and brand perceptions. The all-important public denouncements have so far been missing and the greater public are left to draw their own conclusions based on the actions of continued support and sponsorship for an event that showcases a government that is bent on persecuting huge sections of its population.