Olympics: Is a boycott the answer?

Flashback to 1980: President Jimmy Carter pushed the United States to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow as a protest of the Soviet Union’s soldiers in Afghanistan. Unfortunately the soldiers stayed in Afghanistan for ten more years, and the Soviet Union retaliated by staying far away from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 2014, the Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia. The United States is facing a different sort of dilemma: whether or not President Vladimir Putin’s new laws concerning gay rights will keep the U.S. from playing in the games.

For those who don’t know what is going on in Russia, here is the Sparknotes version. If you are gay or support gay citizens of Russia with homosexual propaganda, you could be fined up to 5,000 rubles, which is roughly 150 USD. If you are a public official, the fine can be up to 1,500 USD.

If you are a tourist in Russia caught preaching pro-gay rights, or if you have something as simple as a pamphlet promoting equal rights, you could face 15 days in prison, swift ejection from the country or up to a 5,000 ruble fine. If a tourist uses media to engage in propaganda, the fine is 50,000 to 100,000 rubles or a 15-day detention in Russia that could lead to deportation. Cracking down on what is seen as homosexual behavior all comes from Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses.

So what do these new laws mean for homosexual athletes? Russia is saying that they will arrest any openly gay athlete that tries to compete in the games, as well as any fan or trainer that supports equality of this nature. Moral of the story – don’t walk around Russia with rainbow anything or you run the risk of being sent to prison for 15 or so days.

So what is an athlete to do? Athletes both gay and straight still want to participate in the games, which is understandable. These men and women spend most of their waking hours practicing their sport and want to show off their skills to the world. They don’t want their sexuality to keep them from getting to live their lives the way they see fit. But there is also the question of safety for these athletes.

To quote the much beloved George Takei – “There have been urgent calls for boycotts of the Olympics and of Russian exports like vodka,” he said. “But a boycott of the games would punish athletes who have trained for years to participate, and a boycott of Russian vodka isn’t going to affect the kind of change needed. Besides, with Russia’s confirmation that it will enforce its law, our LGBT athletes are in real danger, and their safety must be paramount.”

Mikayla Holland, a junior at Bryn Mawr College, is currently studying abroad in Moscow. “I think that the best thing for the U.S. and other countries who disagree with Putin’s anti-gay laws to do is to go to the Olympics and perform well,” Holland said. “We should show Putin and other Russians who agree with him on this issue that our LGBTQ athletes are an asset and a source of national pride, not something to punished.”

There is a new proposal to relocate the 2014 Olympics to Vancouver, Canada. Vancouver was the last city to hold the winter games, so their venues are still in great shape.

Unfortunately it might already be too late; the International Olympic Committee has dismissed the complaints against Russia’s new laws and gave the city of Sochi the green light to continue everything as planned.

Image by Daniel Bynum