Brands continue to come under fire from consumers ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where seemingly anti-gay laws have been passed creating a hostile environment for the LGBT community. The clash has led to boycotts and outright calls to major brand sponsors like McDonald's and Visa to drop support for the games or affirm their stance in support of the LGBT community.
After millions have voiced their concerns for the event, it seems that they may have finally caught the attention of a major participant. Following a SumOfUs.org petition that currently has over 344,000 signatures, Coca-Cola executives are reportedly convening today to decide whether the company, a major sponsor of the Olympics, will comment on the culture clash.
“Coca-Cola is an incredibly important position of power and has the ability to influence both the International Olympic Committee and Russian leaders,” Joe Mirabella, director of communications for equality campaign platform All Out said, BeverageDaily reports. “The safety and dignity of Russians, athletes, and fans is in doubt as long as Russia’s anti-gay laws are intact. Olympic sponsors have a moral obligation to speak out now and demand an end to Putin’s human rights crackdown.”
The laws include one that bans the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors as well as another that does not allow same-sex couples and even unmarried individuals who live in countries that allow same-sex unions to adopt Russian children.
Back in August, Coke spokeswoman Kate Harman said, “As a sponsor since 1928, we believe the Olympic Games are a force for good that unite people through a common interest in sports, and we have seen firsthand the positive impact and long-lasting legacy they leave on every community that has been a host,” Still, consumers are asking for the Atlanta-based company to acknowledge its stance on gay rights and its support of gay athletes and fans in Russia.
When Stolichnaya vodka became the target of a boycott, the company’s CEO, Val Mendeleev, wasn’t afraid to come right out and defend the LGBT community—and speak out against the company's home country. "The recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian government limiting the rights of the LGBT community and the passionate reaction of the community have prompted me to write this letter to you. I want to stress that Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions. Indeed, as a company that encourages transparency and fairness, we are upset and angry.”
That’s something gay activists can surely drink to. But while Western activists and some gay athletes are asking for boycotts of the Games in Sochi, some Russian athletes told Agence-France Presse that “a peaceful show of support at the Games would do more to help the gay rights cause.” One suggestion was for athletes to wear rainbow-colored gear at the Olympic events.
One person who will do just that is New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup. According to the Los Angeles Times, he will wear a rainbow pin on his uniform. He isn’t worried that the Russian government will caret him off to prison for doing, either. The New Zealand government says that it “will appoint a member of their Moscow embassy to ensure that Kiwi athletes and fans are not targeted by the controversial anti-gay laws,” the paper notes.
Perhaps Coke should sign Skjellerup as a spokesman.