Does Google's new home page 'doodle' target Russia's anti-gay law?
FEB 06, 2014 8:37p ET
At first glance, it merely looks like Google is celebrating the kickoff to the Sochi Olympics like the rest of us.
The search engine's new home page "doodle" -- unveiled Thursday night -- features a sports image above each of the six letters in its name, representing several of the major competitions in the 2014 Games: skiing, hockey, curling, bobsledding, figure skating and snowboarding:
It's not until you read the quote below the doodle that you start to catch on to Google's true message:
"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play." -- Olympic Charter
And then when you actually enter a query into the search field, you see the rainbow flag, a longstanding symbol of gay pride:
It certainly would appear to be a shot across the bow to host country Russia (the same doodle is visible on the Google Russia site.) The nation has drawn considerable criticism ahead of the Games for its anti-gay "propaganda" law. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the legislation in July that outlaws so-called pro-gay propaganda that could be accessible to minors. As The Associated Press reports, critics claim the law deters almost any public expression of support for gay rights.
The updated logo appears on Google pages worldwide. Although Google typically updates its themed daily Doodles at midnight Eastern time, the logo's late afternoon debut means it will be seen in Russia on the day of the Olympics' opening ceremony.
A Google representative had no comment, saying the company wants the Doodle to speak for itself.
Putin himself addressed the controversy in mid-January, telling the media: "We aren't banning anything, we aren't rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries. One can feel relaxed and at ease, but please leave the children in peace."
Sochi's mayor has even gone so far as to suggest that no gay people live in his city, according to a BBC report.
"We don't have them in our town," Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov said through an interpreter. When pressed if he was sure about that, Pakhomov reportedly told the reporter, "I'm not sure. I don't bloody know them."
The move by Google, one of the largest and most powerful companies on the planet, comes on the same day that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the persecution of homosexuals in a speech to the International Olympic Committee.
''We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,'' Ban said. ''We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face. ... Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century."
When it comes to the Olympic Charter that Google's home page references, IOC President Thomas Bach told Ban that his group is committed to adhering to the principles laid out in it, claiming that "it is standing for respect and it is standing against any form of discrimination.''
Other entities have been speaking out. Earlier Thursday, the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion released an ad with a humorous tone, featuring two lugers going back and forth to the tune of Human League's "Don't You Want Me" and claiming that "the games have always been a little gay. Let's fight to keep them that way."
Large corporate sponsors of the IOC -- including McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Visa -- have expressed support in general for human rights and tolerance, but so far have been reluctant to specifically mention Russia's law in their condemnation.
But three sponsors of the U.S. Olympic Committee have been explicit:
• AT&T: "Russia's law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it's harmful to a diverse society," the company said this week in a blog post.
• DeVry University: "We are against Russia's anti-LGBT law and support efforts to improve LGBT equality," a spokesman said.
• Yogurt-maker Chobani: "It's disappointing that in 2014 this is still an issue," CEO Hamdi Ulukaya said. "We are against all laws and practices that discriminate in any way, whether it be where you come from or who you love -- for that reason, we oppose Russia's anti-LGBT law."
The Associated Press and the BBC contributed to this report.