Why we should boycott the Sochi Olympics

Josh Tassell argues that Australia should denounce Russia’s homophobic laws

Olympics cartoon - Beck Kim for web
Cartoon: Rebecca Kim

It’s 1936. Hitler’s Germany hosts the Olympics with the naked ambition to finally prove to the world once and for all that the Aryan race is unequivocally superior. The regime hosts policies injurious to the wellbeing of minorities, is headed by a dictator, and will soon be responsible for one of the greatest human tragedies in world history.

Fast forward to now and the hosts of the Winter Olympics in 2014, Russia, have enacted a swathe of anti-homosexual policies that are set to impact on their hosting of the Games.

The ‘anti-gay law’ (to put it delicately) imposes significant fines of up to $31,000 for providing information about the LGBT community to minors, holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships. Under the law, foreigners can be gaoled for 15 days and then deported.

The laws had been tipped to foster protests and pressure from within Russia, potentially destabilising the Games in February of next year. Weight has been leant to the movement with the star power of Stephen Fry, Barack Obama and George Takei.

Fry’s eloquent petition to David Cameron draws the same parallel with the Berlin Olympics of 1936: “Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police.”

“Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian ‘correctively’ raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself.”

The questionable safety of gay Olympians almost goes without saying. If the Russian government openly moves to denigrate the rights of its own citizens and curtail their basic human freedoms, I shudder to think what they’ll do to foreigners. Particularly foreigners who are aiming to deprive them of fleeting national glory through a sporting contest.

This isn’t a baseless consideration – the Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko has confirmed that the laws will be in operation during the Sochi Games and will apply to athletes.

The IOC has little historical standing when it comes to the defence of moral or social goods. Berlin is the oft-cited example, but Beijing’s 2008 Games provided a platform for Tibetan rights. When protests threatened to upstage the torch relay, the path was merely shifted to avoid disruption.

The World Athletics Championships are also due to be held in Russia this month. Disappointingly, whilst the IAAF charter clearly opposes discrimination according to race, sex or gender, the world athletics governing body has said “It is simply not a problem in our sport…at the moment, there are no prominent openly-gay athletes in the sport.”

Reasoning like this is perhaps one of the premier reasons as to why there are so few openly gay athletes. It subjugates the rights of the individual to the spectacle and grandeur of athletic competition.

Australian diver, former Olympic gold medallist and SUSF scholarship holder Matthew Mitcham has called the laws “horrific”.

“The Olympics are supposed to be somewhere where you can compete and feel that gender and sexuality is not an issue. [Athletes’] whole memory and experience is going to be marred by this stuff.”

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