What’s More Important, Sports Or Human Rights?

photo of woman Protesting 2014 Sochi Olympics

Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Russia also recently passed a new law banning ‘propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors’ which has been used to attack LGBT groups in the country. The law means gay pride parades are forbidden as is any literature or signs supporting gay rights. Although the Russian government has told the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the law won’t be applied to athletes, there are calls for a boycott of the games. Of course the people who will profit from the games are against the boycott. They have put sports ahead of human rights.

Human Rights Watch described the anti-gay propaganda law as “a profoundly discriminatory and dangerous bill that is bound to worsen homophobia in Russia.”

Under the guise of protecting children, it will infringe on people’s rights to free expression and discriminate against Russia’s LGBT community, it said, as the bill was being debated.

The move should be set against a backdrop of increased attacks in Russia on members of the LGBT community and gay rights activists, it pointed out.

There have been conflicting calls from gay rights activists over a suggested boycott of the Sochi Games.

While some activists back a boycott, others argue that such a step would be counterproductive.

U.S.-based company Outsports, which supports gay sport, is among those opposed to an Olympic boycott, saying critics should focus on putting pressure on Russia’s government rather than denying athletes their chance to compete.

“Instead of walking away, LGBT athletes and their nations should march into Sochi holding their heads high,” an article on the Outsports website said.

The International Olympic Committee issued a statement Wednesday in response to the furor, saying the Russian government had given assurances that gay visitors would not be affected by the controversial law.

“The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardise this principle,” it said.

“To that end, the IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

USA Track and Field, the U.S. national governing body for athletics, is treating the matter as a safety and security issue, spokeswoman Jill Geer told CNN.

Protests, boycott calls as anger grows over Russia anti-gay propaganda laws

Just like during the Nazi games of 1936, the IOC is looking the other way, ignoring the obvious human rights violations of a host nation. What would it take to get the IOC to move the games?

Then you have people making the false argument that showing up for the games will make more of statement than a boycott.

ESPN.com writer Jim Caple cherry picks history to make the point that boycotts don’t work:

Skipping these upcoming Olympics would only alienate and anger the very people in Russia the boycott supporters are trying to influence. It’s somewhat like Dan Savage’s misguided call to boycott Stolichnaya vodka, which is produced in Latvia, not Russia. The people such a boycott will hurt are not the Russians with anti-gay views but the innocent workers in what was once an oppressed Soviet republic.

The best way to influence Russia on these issues is to send our athletes to Sochi, where they can represent the United States on the world stage. If people are offended by Snowden receiving asylum in Russia, let us counter that by allowing our athletes to receive something more dramatic in Russia: gold medals. If Russian President Vladimir Putin opposes gay rights, let LGBT athletes from every nation go and beat his athletes in competition. Let them show, as Taylor says, that excellence has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

“Look at the 1968 Olympics,” Taylor said. “Look at the statement Tommie Smith and John Carlos made and the action they took. That became a symbol seen around the world. The visibility that the Olympics provide gives advocates for the LGBT community a chance to let their voice be heard.”

Do not boycott the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. People always make a bigger statement when they show up than when they stay home.

Six months to Sochi: Let them play

Caple is wrong. Participating in the 1936 games didn’t prevent the Holocaust. It gave Hitler the world stage he craved. It was a PR boon for him. 

The 1980 boycott didn’t get the USSR out of Afghanistan but it was a black eye for them. There will always be an asterisk next to that year in the history of games. Just like the 1984 games will be a black eye for the US after the Soviet bloc boycotted.

The “black power” salute Smith and Carlos made didn’t change the civil rights struggle but it did get them suspended from the US team and ostracized by the sports world for many years. Their protest was about civil rights in the United States – not Mexico.

Boycotts are a slow process of pressure. It hits the target in the pocketbook. Yes, athletes would be hurt if there was a boycott but unlike the LGBTs in Russia, they can move to the next competition.

There is just too much corporate money in the Olympics and those who profit from the games like ESPN and the IOC will never agree with a boycott. I predict that the anti-gay laws won’t even be mentioned during the NBC coverage of the games or if it is it will be a brief package by Brian Williams and we will never hear of it again.