Mega sporting events, such as the Olympics, are sites of political struggle. Situating mega sporting events within the context of critical social theory, this article examines the potential of modern sport to serve as a vehicle for foreign policy and the promotion of international human rights. This article examines the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in light of Russian legislation that bans ‘propaganda of non-traditional relations’, resulting in what many have described as state-sponsored homophobia. Highlighting the international community's response to this legislation, such as threatened boycotts, political statements and symbolic gestures of protest, the implications of the Sochi case study reveal the potential of mega sporting events to advance human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens in Russia and perhaps elsewhere. As human rights are historically and culturally contested, this article discusses the role of identity politics and liberal internationalism within the realm of global sport diplomacy. Finally, the Sochi case study contributes to future discussions concerning efforts at balancing hosting rights, human rights and the social responsibilities associated with mega sporting events. Specific recommendations are provided.