Russian Olympics, To Be or Not To Be?

Hello once again, it’s been a busy week and the next week is scheduled to be just as hectic, but I’m sure I’ll manage to get by. Looking at the title of this article, you’ll probably be thinking, ‘Christ on a bendy bus, Russia again?’ And yes, I’m sorry, but Russia again. Last night’s post was a bit of an uncoordinated rant that sort of spewed out amid other things I was going, I know, check my crazy forward planning skills. However the situation in Russia has been attracting more and more media attention, and rightfully so, given the sharp increase in violent attacks against members of the LGBT community in Russia. One notable development is the increase in people petitioning to either have the Olympics boycotted or to have them pulled altogether.

Yes, you read that correctly, pull the Olympic Winter Games for 2014. Cancel the Olympics. It’s an idea that I, being quite a fan of the Winter Olympics, originally tried to find my way around, but there is no justification for trying to weasel one’s way around it; Russia’s systematic abuse of civil rights and persecution of people based on their sexual identities directly contravenes with the message of the Olympics. The Olympic games are about uniting people in sport, regardless of political, religious or even sexual orientations. It is a movement about peace, diversity and simple competition based on athletic ability. As Rule Number Six in the IOC’s Mission statement quite neatly puts it:

“Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race,
religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic

In an open letter to Mr. Cameron, Lord Coe and M. Rogge, to which I shall include a link post script, Stephen Fry, pointed out that if the games in Russia went ahead, given the current state of Russian politics, “The Five Rings would finally be forever smeared, besmirched and ruined in the eyes of the civilised world.” Mr. Fry points out that in 1936, Adolf Hitler’s regime was given an unimaginable boost internationally by the Olympic Games in Berlin, at a time when Hitler’s regime were persecuting the Jewish people.

Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was a way of pinning all of Germany’s problems on a minority group of people who could easily be persecuted and destroyed to distract from the real political issues of the time. Nowadays we see these acts as villainous and horrific, but at the time of the Berlin Olympics, these acts of persecution were ignored by the IOC and Hitler’s regime elevated on the international stage.

What we see now in Russia is no different; the ruling powers, the Orthodox church being well embedded in there too, are using the LGBT community as a scapegoat for Russia’s political problems without having to address the real issues. The results are the mass persecution and abuse of an entire group of people, simply due to the fate of the way they were born. To allow the Winter Olympic games to go ahead in Russia in this climate would be giving Putin and his Russia the same mandate that the world gave Hitler and his Germany in 1936.

Now I love the Olympic games, the Summer games in London last year were one of the few occasions on which I have felt a twinge of “British Pride”, not to worry, a sharp blow to the head sorted that out quickly, and I truly enjoy, being a curler, the Winter Olympics, I was glued to the screen for most of the Vancouver games, even in the dead of night. Having the Olympics pulled is one of the last things I want to see, however one thing I would hate to see more, would be the name of the Olympic games being tarnished by the blatant abuse of civil liberties in Russia, abuses which so directly contradict everything the Olympics are about.

Russia, in what seems a desperate bid to retain the games, has said that it’s new laws will not apply to spectators or athletes at the games. To me, there seem to be a couple of problems there, not in the least being, how would one enforce that? Given the massive spate of attacks by neo-nazi gangs of thugs acting outwith the law, you cannot possibly expect to maintain the safety of any LGBT athletes or spectators. In fact fear arises for LGBT Russians who may use the games as a respite and flock to Sochi, only to be trapped by these thugs.

But quite simply put, these measures aren’t good enough. To simply have a bubble in Russia that for two weeks will allow a small number of people to exercise, what are essentially, their basic rights as human beings to express love and compassion, fitting neatly around the games and then disappearing once more to allow for the gangs to move in once more, is simply ludicrous. How can one possibly think that is enough?

It smacks of an insult to the LGBT community in Russia and across the world, not to mention the Olympic Movement. “Yes, we will bend our socially backwards laws to fit your games and then continue our mass persecutions once you leave.” Frankly at this point, I see no fair enough reason for the games to not be pulled, Russia’s abuse of civil rights would tarnish the Olympics to the same kind of degree as in 1936, one could even say more as we should have learnt our lesson by now.

In his letter, Mr. Fry suggests holding the games in some place like Utah, Lillyhammer, Oslo, etc. Which could work, given the facilities of past Olympic games still exist there, but to do that may be more trouble at this point, given that it is less than a year to the games, it sadly seems that the only reasonable option is to pull the games entirely. That is unless of course Russia pulls a massive u-turn on this policy in the next seven months or so, which given the amount of pressure from the international community already ignored by Russia, seems unlikely.

The IOC has a reasonable amount of clout here, the Olympic games are a massive international event and boost the international profile of which ever country hosts them, kind of like Eurovision, but with less bickering about points twenty years down the line. If the IOC agreed to pull the games in 2014, it would strike a monumental blow to Russia’s international credibility, and perhaps make them think twice about what they are actually doing. I therefore sincerely hope that the IOC takes such a proposal into serious consideration.

So, as usual feel free to comment and keep the debate going, until my next post, thanks for reading.

Post Script: Stephen Fry’s Open Letter to The Rt. Hon. David Cameron, Lord Coe and M. Rogge of the IOC:


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