Should we boycott the winter Olympics?

12/08/2013 17:56

Stephen Fry has written to the prime minister and the International Olympic Committee calling for a ban on the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics because of concerns over Russia's new anti-gay laws.
Just over two weeks ago, I was invited to a reception at Downing Street to celebrate the passing of the equal marriage act. What should have been a thoroughly happy occasion was somewhat dampened by the news from Russia. The prime minister made no direct reference to this in his speech, but many of us present talked of little else.
As I'm sure you know, the news from Russia isn't good – certainly not if you're lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The catalogue of human rights abuses committed against LGBT people in Russia is truly horrific. It's not just the outlawing of Pride marches or Putin's legislative attempts to ban public discussion of homosexuality. Homosexual acts are now punishable by imprisonment. There is even talk of removing children from parents thought to be lesbian or gay.
In this climate of state-sanctioned homophobia, LGBT people are being brutalised. Attacks, torture and even murder are being ignored by the Russian police. This is why I support the boycott of the winter Olympics. As Stephen Fry wrote in his open letter to David Cameron and the Olympic committee, sport "does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics".
Sending LGBT athletes and supporters to the winter Olympics not only puts their personal safety at risk – it also says that Putin's persecution of LGBT Russians is seen as acceptable.
Any decent human being will be appalled by Putin's hateful legislation, so let's agree that we start from the same stance on LGBT rights.
My objection to a boycott stems from the belief that it would not be effective, that it would unfairly ask athletes who have trained for years for this event to take the brunt of this action and that, in going to Sochi, LGBT and pro-LGBT athletes, coaches and the media (which I plan to be part of) will be a visible sign of hateless humanity.
We have had sporting boycotts before – Team USA didn't go to Moscow 1980 and Russia stayed away from Los Angeles 1984, while 25 African nations boycotted Montreal 1976 because New Zealand (whose rugby team was touring South Africa at the time) were competing. The Americans and russians became best friends soon after their governments' tit-for-tat decisions, and it took 18 years for apartheid to crumble.
Sport does not exist in a bubble. It is a central part of our culture – which is why it should be front and centre of a visible protest against these heinous attitudes. Just the presence of LGBT athletes in Sochi is an affront to Putin, and wouldn't it be lovely to rub his nose in it, if (I'm hoping when) New Zealand skater Blake Skjellerup or American skater Johnny Weir (both out and proud) win medals, sporting a rainbow flag on their kit?