There has been a lot of discussion recently in the media, notably within social media, about uniting and taking a stand against Russia’s recent anti-LGB legislation by boycotting the forthcoming Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi in February 2014.
Developments within Russia regarding the implementation of anti-LGB legislation during the last few months have certainly been disturbing where approved bills and events are reminiscent of fiction in literature and films of a repressed fascist dictatorship. With the repulsion of the Defence of Marriage Act in the USA in June and the passing of the Equal (same sex) Marriage Act in the United Kingdom in July, it really is harrowing to hear that a developed country within the new millennium could pass a bill banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. Hefty fines and imprisonment can now be imposed on those who provide information about the LGB community to people under 18 years of age or for holding gay rallies. Foreign nationals and tourists can face up to 15 days in prison and deportation if they are suspected of breaking this law. It is also illegal for gay couples to adopt Russian children as well as gay foreign nationals adopting Russian born children.
It certainly is a scary place to be gay with reports of police beatings becoming a weekly, nearly daily occurrence and only a few days ago did we get reports of the first gay foreign nationals being arrested on grounds of violating ‘the rules of stay in the territory of Russia’ for ‘gay propaganda’. With minimal response from leading heads of state there seems to be a Chamberlainesque fear of carrying out some sort of action. Some feel that boycotting the Olympics would be a necessary step. But would it have any effect?
By analysing previous boycotting actions throughout Olympic (Winter and Summer) history it is evident that nations simply boycotting a Games had no political outcome whatsoever. The only outcome was a moral victory on the nation/nations in question. There have been six Summer Olympics that have been subject to various boycotts (1936, 1956, 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988) and one Winter Olympic (1980) during which the games still went ahead and the politics behind the campaigns remained unaltered. The largest mass boycott in Olympic history was in 1980 where due to official boycotting and financial reasons only 80 countries participated. This was led by the US in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. It certainly was a bold move by one of the world’s top competitive nations who was practically guaranteed to win a plethora of medals. However, as great a moral gesture as it was it had no effect on Soviet policy. The Olympic Games went ahead and Allan Wells went into the record books as the 1980 100m Olympic gold medallist. A boycott would only have a chance of being affective if every nation were to take part. As being gay is illegal in 78 countries around the world and being lesbian is illegal in 49 I fear that not all countries would participate in this endeavour. And then there’s those states who may have decriminalised homosexuality by name of law but still regard LGB behaviour deviant such as Ukraine and Poland, where the fight for equality is just as dangerous as it is in Russia. The reality of this situation is that a total worldwide boycott of Sochi 2014 will never happen. Medals will still be fort and names will still be carved in Olympic history.
And what about these names and those competitors who take part? Does a boycott take away the achievements made those individuals who do compete? Is Allan Wells any less an Olympian because firmer competitors and favourites were not present in 1980? Is Jan Kodes any less a Wimbledon champion because he won the title the year 81 of the top players boycotted the championships in 1973? No matter the circumstances it is their names inscribed in the record books and it is them who we remember.
Putin and the Orthodox leaders of Russia have enforced this putrid anti-LGB law onto their subjects because of fear. They have seen how Out role models and increased media representation work to challenge the ideology of homosexuality being an unnatural act. There’s still a long way to go for worldwide LGB rights however significant progress has been made within the last twenty years through activism and increased visibility in the media, arts and sport. Sixteen years ago Ellen Degeneres was vilified for being an open lesbian in mainstream media. After ten years of broadcasting her afternoon talkshow on a mainstream American network she has helped to show America and the world that being a lesbian isn’t any different than being anybody else. She has role modelled normality and even though there is still a long way to go till America fully embraces LGB equality, progress has been made with thirteen states now allowing gay couples to get married. If the only exposure you have had to homosexuality is negative propaganda then of course you’re going to have an innate fear and dislike. The solution is visibility. Take the Czech Republic as an example. With it being a former Soviet occupied state that borders Poland you would assume it to share similar social ideologies as those Eastern bloc countries. However holding an annual Gay Pride, Gay Film Festival and having an LGBT friendly tourist board makes you wonder why yet being so close they couldn’t be further apart? The power of positive role models should never be underestimated. Martina Navratilova may be an American citizen but Czech people still regard her as one of their own. She blew apart the record books showcasing sporting excellence and to this day remains as one of the top two greatest female tennis player of all time proving homosexuality as no hindrance to endeavour whatsoever. It is those initial acts of bravery by courageous individuals like Martina who have fought abhorrent ideology by being themselves and changing perceptions. The Czech Republic is a gay friendly country whose national treasure is an open and very famous lesbian. Make the connection between Ellen Degeneres and America’s changing policies and you can just see how powerful visibility is. So rather than boycotting and in effect walking away from these putrid ideologies, why not send them something they desperately need… Visibility.
Even though boycotting is morally justified, it doesn’t really confront the issue and plays right into Putin’s hands. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to showcase the talents of gay athletes in Sochi 2014 instead of helping the government cover up gay existence? How great would it be for openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup to win a gold medal showing that you can be gay and achieve sporting excellence? History has shown us that boycotts have no effect. What does make an impact however is symbolism. I can’t tell you anything about the 1968 Summer Olympics other than the moment Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black gloved fists in a star spangled bannered ‘human rights salute’. One of the most iconic acts of symbolism in human rights activism was beamed around the world witnessed by millions, remembered by billions. There is no greater platform for raising awareness than the Olympic Games. Rather than non-attendance, how symbolic would it be if supporting nations chose to wave rainbow flags during the opening ceremony? How symbolic would it be for state leaders to wear pink carnations in their lapels during the opening ceremony, if Obama wore a rainbow badge beside the American pin on his jacket, nations played with rainbow hockey sticks, or a medallist suddenly waved a rainbow flag on the podium? It would certainly raise attention to a wide audience. An intended audience.
It is clear that the leaders of Russia have created a state that doesn’t deserve the honour of hosting the Olympic Games. The Olympic Committee have the power to take away this honour and relocate the games to another deserved nation as they have done in the past. I am saddened and horrified by what I have read in the media about these laws and the subsequent treatment of the LBG community in Russia. If I were an athlete I would not want to set foot in a country that was disabling my rights and identity. As a spectator I would never spend my money contributing to such an underserved economy by travelling to Sochi to watch the games in person. I don’t even want to support the television ratings if I am honest.
But I love the Olympics and the Olympic Spirit is our greatest ally…
“thousands of young men and women have answered the call to enter the arena to compete in friendly competition for the honour and glory of sport… fulfilling the philosophy that is still paramount today, to improve the human race, to strengthen understanding and friendship amongst all peoples and to promote the Olympic Spirit.”
It takes courage and bravery to change the world and there is no better platform than the Olympic Games. The world needs to wake up to the evil that has presented itself but fairness and equality has never been gained by walking away.
Follow Clare on Twitter @klaramoranova
What do you think about the suggestion that athletes, fans and nations should boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014? Please leave your comments below.