2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games Russia Anti-Homosexuality Law ProtestThursday, August 8, 2013 13:41
Most calls to use the Olympics to protest Russia’s new anti-homosexuality laws are either impractical or ineffective. Here are some better measures.
Making Olympic Protests Work
The latest salvo against Russia’s new anti-homosexuality law came from President Obama while on The Tonight Show Tuesday night, saying he has “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”
With the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia, the Olympic Games have become the obvious focal point of how the rest of the world hopes to place pressure on Russia to repeal to this heinous law.
The Olympics, of course, are a platform unlike any other, gathering the nations of the world to one place–along with all those eyeballs watching the Games on television. But many of the Olympic responses being bandied about by outraged groups and individual are plain ridiculous, on par with the ludicrous #DumpStoli campaign (Stolichnaya is not distilled in Russia; even those vodkas that are truly Russian pale in dollar comparison to Russian oil exports, the only export on which a product boycott could really expect to have some efficacy).
Move the Olympics? A logistical impossibility. The Olympics take years of planning to put on, hence the lead time given from a site’s naming to the Games being held at location. No other site, not even recent hosts, could be brought back up in time.
Boycott the Games? A nice symbolic gesture, maybe, but one that will ultimately fail in purpose while hurting the wrong people. With less (and lesser) competition, Russian would garner even more medals than the already expected home-turf-boosted totals, numbers Russia would treat as bragging rights. Any financial loss from other nations not participating would be simply shrugged off. Meanwhile, all those athletes in boycotting nations who have spent their entire lives training for the Games would lose their opportunity to compete.
Tell me, who are the real loses in boycott scenarios?
Indeed, the response for call to boycott in the LGBT community is mixed. I’ve heard as many calls against such as for it from inside the gay community. Remember, one of the greatest moments in Olympic history was Jesse Owens embarrassing Adolph Hitler and making a mockery of the Nazi’s Aryan supremacy beliefs at the 1936 Berlin Games. Gay athletes in particular deserve the right to stand up to such bigotry with success in competition.
If the Olympics are truly to have any meaningful consequence on Russia’s anti-homosexuality laws, the impetus has to come from that most corrupt and dubious organization, the International Olympic Committee itself.
Firstly, the IOC needs to ban Russian athletes from competing at their own Games. To be sure, some, maybe most, of the athletes do not support these laws–some are probably gay themselves–and thus they would be bearing the brunt of the burden for their government’s actions, but that number would be far less than if the US and other nations did not show up…and their losses are the only ones about which Russia would care one iota.
Secondly, the IOC needs to state that if Russia decides to default on its hosting duties in response to the above athlete ban, sayonara Russia from the Olympics forever. No hosting, no competing. South Africa was banned for decades due to apartheid. Russia’s prominence in the Games and the meaning the Russian government places on Olympic success are both far greater than that of South Africa.
Thirdly, the IOC needs to lift its bans on political protest at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games and allow any and all athletes to use this platform to object to Russia’s anti-homosexuality laws.
The big question is, does the IOC have the guts?
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