It was known well in advance that Russia would be under the microscope throughout the 2014 Winter Olympics. While some missteps have seemingly already been made, the censorship of Canadian bobsledder Justin Kripps' website shouldn't be counted among them.
Kripps attempted to access his website in Sochi, but an error message appeared, which led Kripps to joke about the situation on Twitter:
His reference to cameras being in his room was a jab at suspicions that those staying in Sochi hotels are under surveillance. That issue first came to light on Feb. 6 when deputy prime minister of Russia Dmitry Kozak suggested that any hotel problems were the fault of visitors, per Paul Sonne, Gregory L. White and Joshua Robinson of the Wall Street Journal.
"We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day," Kozak said.
Not surprisingly, the media has had a field day with that comment. Secret surveillance is obviously unacceptable and shouldn't be tolerated, but at the same time, Russia shouldn't be blasted for every minor situation, which is where Kripps' website comes into play.
Per Adam Frisk, Leslie Young and Adam Hearty of Global News, the message that showed up on Kripps' website, JustinKripps.ca, which is merely a promotional site for himself and the Canadian bobsledding team, said access to the resource was limited, and a number of possible reasons were listed:
Access is limited by court order or otherwise established by the legislation of the Russian Federation.
Network address, which identifies the site on the 'Internet', included in the Uniform Domain Name Registry, indexes pages sites network 'Internet' and the network address for the identification of sites in the 'Internet,' containing information dissemination in the Russian Federation is prohibited.
Network address, which identifies the site on the 'Internet', included in the registry of domain names, indexes pages of sites in the “Internet” and the network address for the identification of sites in the 'Internet,' containing information disseminated in violation of the exclusive rights.
That doesn't reveal much, but it also doesn't implicate Russia in terms of censoring things without probable cause. Andrew Mellenger, who helped launch Kripps' site, suggested that the use of "Sochi 2014" could have violated Olympic copyright and led to the site being censored, per Global News.
Another potential explanation is the fact that the server that supports Kripps' website also supports some explicit or pornographic websites, according to Frisk, Young and Hearty.
"If you look through the websites on the server, there are five or six that you can see would be censored in Russia," Mellenger said. "So they didn't pick out the individual sites, they just shut down the whole server."
If that is the case, then the outrage is misplaced. Russia may have a much stricter censorship policy than Canada or the United States, but blocking sexually explicit material is the country's prerogative.
Even so, speculation persists that Russia's controversial stance on homosexuality played into the decision. Kripps released a photo of himself and some teammates in their underwear in January, as seen below, courtesy of Kripps' Twitter account:
The photo was subsequently picked up by several websites, including Outsports.com, which is notable for its support of gay sports, per Frisk, Young and Hearty. Russia passed legislation barring "homosexual propaganda" last summer, which naturally sparked outrage across the globe.
As is often the case with the Olympics, the Sochi Games are as much about political agendas as athletic feats. Connecting political agendas to potentially harmless decisions such as the censorship of Kripps' site is unnecessary, though, and it takes away from the Olympics themselves.
It's understandable why Kripps might be miffed since it is his website, and his tweet may have just been a lighthearted joke, but plenty of people seem to be taking it seriously.
There may be plenty of things worth critiquing once the 2014 Winter Games reach their conclusion in a couple weeks, but the drama surrounding Kripps' website is something that shouldn't impact the enjoyment of the Olympic festivities.
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