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  Sochi Olympics Boycott: what's wrong here?

Inga Popovaitë, political commentator
2013 09 11

Sochi Winter Olympic Games are about to be the most expensive Olympic Games in history but international media explores the pros of boycotting the Olympics. Should the world‘s sports and political arena respond to the new Russia‘s law related to sexual minorities and refuse to participate in the Olympics? The answer is: no.

On 30 June Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed laws strengthening the penalties for "propagating homosexuality among minors" which means that homosexual and heterosexual relations are equally treated by the society.  

The Law introduced fines of up to 5000 roubles for Russian citizens and up to 200 thousand roubles for officials of such propaganda.  Pursuant to the Law, foreigners will not only be fined but face administrative arrest up to 15 days, whereas organisations will face fines of up to one million roubles and a shutdown of their activity for 90 days.

According to human rights activists without a legal definition of ‘propaganda’ or ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ they are not getting a clear picture of how the authorities will use the Law. Following this logic, the Swedish athletes E.Green-Tregaro and M.Hjelmer who painted their nails in the rainbow colours during the World Athletic Championship in Moscow, have committed a crime.

After an open letter of the gay rights activist Stephen Fry to Great Britain‘s Prime Minister D.Cameron and to the International Olympics Committee (IOC) on the Sochi boycott, the IOC has received assurances from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak responsible for the organisation of the Olympics, that the anti-propaganda Law will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games, that there will no discrimination against LGBT people and that everyone will be welcome at the Games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation.

However, soon Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that in Russia nobody is allowed to violate the laws (Ria Novosti). Pursuant to the statement of the Russian Interior Ministry „any discussion on violating the rights of representatives of non-traditional sexual orientations, stopping them from taking part in the Olympic Games or discrimination of athletes and guests of the Olympics according to their sexual orientation is totally unfounded and contrived.“ 

Both the supporters of the Law and its opponents agree that boycott of Sochi Olympics in 2014 is not a way out. The first say that discrimination of homosexuals in Russia is prohibited and therefore the boycott is meaningless. The opponents of the Law believe that participation in the Olympics and visibility could change situation of homosexuals in Russia.

David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama are also of the same opinion. In response to Stephen Fry‘s statement,  on Twitter David Cameron expressed that he shared Stephen’s ‘deep concern about the abuse of gay people in Russia, yet ruled out the idea of boycott of the Olympics. According to Barack Obama, „maybe some gay and lesbian athletes will bring home the gold or silver or bronze“.

The boycott of the Sochi Olympics will have more negative than positive effects, and will primarily hurt the athletes. The anti-Russian moods in the West will strengthen the position of Putin as Russia’s protector from the rotten Western values. There will be no problem for the Kremlin to trample the arguments of the actual reason of boycott – no one boycotted the Beijing Olympics though violations of human rights in China is a public secret. Therefore actions against the Sochi Winter Olympics could be treated as anti-Russian policy.  

The Law on „homosexual propaganda“ is supported by the majority of Russian citizens (a famous athlete Yelena Isimbayeva is among them) and this complicates the situation. Therefore both, urging boycott of the Olympics and encouragement not to hide sexual orientation will hurt traditional Russian mentality. A constructive dialogue and more open society in Russia during and after the Olympics will depend on many factors, and boycott should not be among them.

A few facts from the history of the Olympic boycotts:

·  Berlin Olympics, 1936. Despite threats of boycott, the U.S. and other states participated in the Games. Adolf Hitler was very disappointed when Jesse Owens, a black American athlete, won four gold medals.  

·  Melbourne Olympics, 1956. Because of the Suez Crisis, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon refused to take part in the Games; Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands withdrew because of the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

·  Montreal Olympics, 1976. Majority of African countries boycotted the Games. The African nations were angry that a New Zealand All Blacks rugby team was touring apartheid-era South Africa.

·  Moscow Olympics, 1980. In protest over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan a total of 65 nations boycotted the games.  

·  Los Angeles Olympics, 1984. In response to the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries refused to participate in the Games.

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