T-minus 99 days until the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympic
Games in Sochi, Russia; and the countdown -- and the pressure -- is
now focused on American brands.
Gay rights group AllOut showed up at
) headquarters in Atlanta on Monday in an effort to urge the
longtime Olympic sponsor to
demand a repeal
of an anti-gay law at the Sochi Games. Put on the books this summer
by the Russian parliament and tacitly endorsed by the International
Olympic Committee (
), the laws can impose thousands of dollars in fines and even
imprisonment on any citizen, visitor, or athlete who expresses
gay-affirmative views at the Games.
Billboards reading "Coca-Cola," "Don't Stay Bottled Up," and "Speak
Out Against Russia's Anti-Gay Laws" were splashed across trucks
that passed through the company's campus while individual
protesters picketed across the street from the main gates.
Together, with human rights organization SumOfUs, AllOut was also
armed with petitions bearing a half million signatures calling on
the soft drink giant to publicly condemn the law.
But Coca-Cola doesn't seem willing to go that distance. Despite
meetings among top executives
about whether or not to take decisive action -- and consequently
the postponement of those meetings -- it appears the company has
merely decided to maintain the status quo.
, posted on the corporate website, is one of boilerplate platitudes
that doesn't agree with sanctioned injustice, but stops short of
As one of the world's most inclusive brands, we value and
celebrate diversity. We have long been a strong supporter of the
LGBT community and have advocated for inclusion and diversity
through both our policies and practices. We do not condone
intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the
Of course, Coca-Cola isn't the only game in Sochi. Also
underwriting the Olympics are mega corporations
) NBC is paying
to broadcast the Games while its journalists will be either muzzled
on the highly relevant topic of homosexuality or face the criminal
consequences for reporting news.
Activists may indeed decide to petition other sponsors of the
Olympic Games. "We have focused on Coke because they have a clear
timetable in which they will make a decision over whether to make a
public statement condemning the Russian law," says SumOfUs' Martin
Caldwell. "If Coke made that choice it would have a huge impact on
other companies and on the IOC and Russian government. It doesn't
mean we won't target other companies…."
Meanwhile, a sudden and suspect message of tolerance came from
Vladimir Putin on Monday. The Russian president, who has stood by
the law, now appears to be doing some late-game damage control.
During an inspection of the venues at Sochi, he
the head of the IOC that Russia will "do its best to make sure that
participants and guests of the Sochi Games feel comfortable
irrespective of their nationality, race, or sexual orientation."
As it stands, the federal law -- written in anticipation of the
Winter Games -- is still very much in black and white, with
Russia's sports minister assuring its enforcement.
Putin has a lot riding on Sochi. Far more than celebrating
athleticism, his country's $50 million investment in the Games will
cast a worldwide spotlight on a modernized Russia largely unseen
since its break from the Soviet Union and Communist rule.
Ironically, it's civil rights that truly make a country advanced,
and they don't cost a thing.
Until the law is officially struck from the record, any kind of
enlightened-sounding speech is just lip service -- whether it's
coming from a president, or a corporation.