By Gregory – From Russia with love, but what kind of love? Since the new federal law prohibiting the promotion of same-sex behaviour in public was adopted by the Russian parliament (the State Duma), roughly 10% of the Russian population and some foreign visitors could be prosecuted for showing their love towards each other. Signed into law by President Putin, this means that such actions as holding hands, touching or kissing could be seen as ‘homosexual propaganda’. Homosexual propaganda…has anyone heard of this before? This must be some kind of a Kremlin invention to bolster the opinion ratings of Putin’s ruling party. Or has the concept ‘homosexual propaganda’ been imposed by a conservative, discriminatory and powerful Russian Orthodox Church in order to protect what they consider to be ‘Traditional Russian values’?
Whatever the answer may be, the bigger issue at the moment is that Russia is hosting the Winter Olympic Games next year and the International Olympic Commitee, whose foundations are based on the principles of respect, excellence, friendship, determination, courage, inspiration and equality, appears to be turning a blind eye towards the latest developments in Russia.
The IOC’s response has so far been reticent. Under the presidency of Jacques Rogge, the committee has been trying to get assurances from the Russian government and from the Sochi Organising Committee that the new anti gay law will not affect athletes and visitors. That’s all very well, but what about before and after the Games? Does that not matter to the IOC? Should the IOC not strive for the total abolishment of this discriminatory law, instead of seeking a suspension of its enforcement for the duration of the Games?
The IOC has so far not been successful in convincing the Russians to back down over the law, even if only for the period during the games in February 2014. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko meanwhile said that Olympians will have to comply with the Russian law and that Russia will not bow to political pressure. In a statement he confirmed, “We do not need to fear that the Olympics will be boycotted”.
In an open letter written to British Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord Coe and members of the IOC, Stephen Fry (actor, author and British television personality) is asking the IOC to take a firm stance against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the State Duma, on behalf of the shared humanity the IOC is meant to represent. He further wrote, “An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.”
From an ideological point of view I totally agree with Stephen Fry, but it’s not as simple as that. With only 6 months to go before the start of the Sochi Games, it is impossible to move the event to another host city. No other city, close enough to a mountain range, is ready to host the biggest winter sport event in the world at such short notice.
Cancelling the 2014 Winter Olympic Games completely would be extremely unfair towards all those athletes who have been working so hard to reach the performance levels demanded of them at this level. The IOC cannot ask them to wait until Pyeongchang 2018, as for many the peak of their career will be over by then.
I agree with Stephen Fry that a boycott, one way or another, is a must. Putin and the whole Russian political and religious elite need to understand that laws discriminating people, whether on the grounds of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation is unacceptable in the 21st century.
Politicians and heads of state from self respecting, liberal countries should, by way of a boycott, not attend the Games themselves, not even representing their countries at the opening and closing ceremonies. Athletes should also avoid these ceremonies and only attend the Games to compete in the sporting events. If representatives and athletes do decide to attend the non-sporting events then they should make a clear statement there and then, right in front of the worlds cameras. Perhaps they could enter the stadium with a placard pronouncing “Some People Are Gay – Get Over It!” Mr. Rogge, if he had the personal courage and determination in-line with the foundations of the organisation he leads, could take the opportunity to address the issue in his opening speech and use the platform to show his discontent with the ways things are going in Russia. This would send a stronger message to Russia then cancelling the Games. Take the opportunity to boycott and make your voice heard in the belly of the beast.
What if Rogge opened the Games saying, “Dear President Putin, Mr. Mutko and the Russian Orthodox Church, I greet you from The World, with love!”