Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Change The Laws Don't Punish

An Open Letter to Stephen Fry, Rupert Everett, George Takei and others wanting to boycott, move or cancel the 2014 Olympics as well as to the IOC:

This is an elaboration of an August 9th post that you can read here and prompted by the continuation of a call to boycott the 2014 Olympics most recently by Rupert Everett.

I am in complete agreement that the anti-gay (GLBT) laws in Russia are not acceptable. I don't believe however that boycotting the Olympics is the avenue for change.

Is our goal to punish the athletes and Russia or to have the laws changed and ensure the safety of gay and GLBT people (around the world)?

Boycotting or cancelling does not get the laws changed.

Speaking out, raising awareness and getting our leaders involved can make a change.

My suggestion (to celebrities in particular) who want change is to use the skills you have and speak out instead of asking athletes to sit out and do nothing. I don't mean to speak out on Twitter, or on a blog or in the media.

Be the Bob Geldof for gay rights. Organize an event to raise awareness, to educate and to demand change from the leaders of the world and Russia like Geldof did when he organized Live Aid and Live 8. Invite musicians, celebrities, world leaders, activists and athletes. Wave as many rainbow flags as possible.

Nelson Mandela was not freed and apartheid in South Africa abolished because some countries boycotted the 1976 Olympics. The result came in part because of the Free Mandela concert that was staged in 1988 (organized by Tony Hollingsworth).

The 1980 Olympic boycott did not result in the Soviet Union withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Don't wait to boycott the Olympics, act NOW for change.

There are 76+ countries in the world where homosexuality is illegal (Russia is not one of them by the way) - that is almost 40% of the world's countries that have worse laws than Russia! Let's include them in the discussion. Russia hosting the Olympics has given us the opportunity to have the discussion and challenge them. Without this stage, Russia's laws may not have gotten the attention it has.

There are a lot more ways to give Russia (and anti-gay countries) the message that discrimination is not acceptable like:
  • Governments and leaders (prime ministers, presidents and elected officials)
  • Foreign affairs ministers 
  • Organizations for change (Amnesty International, GLAAD,, etc.)
  • Athlete Ally who empower athletes to be role models and challenge homophobia and transphobia in sports.
  • Artists/celebrities who can stage events or concerts for awareness, education and change (Free Mandela, Live Aid, Live 8, etc.)
  • Media (by reporting about the issue and not glamorizing the host country)
  • Sponsors
They are the ones to lead the cause for change - for equal human rights, not only gay rights.

The International Olympic Committee should also give Russia (and other hosts and participating nations) a clear message that discrimination is not acceptable by education and reminding them of the Olympic ideal.
"The IOC wants to contribute to the search for peaceful and diplomatic solutions and spread the idea that sport and peace are a 'winning pair'.
To meet its objectives, the International Olympic Truce Foundation has established an International Olympic Truce Centre (IOTC) based in Athens, which is responsible for implementing projects related to the worldwide promotion of a culture of peace through sport and the Olympic ideal."  
My suggestion is that a project for human rights be formed (if it's not already) which would include gay rights, women's rights, minority rights, and human rights.

The Olympics are based on three core values: excellence, friendship and respect.
"The Olympic Games inspire people to overcome political, economic, gender, racial or religious differences and forge friendships in spite of those differences."
The Olympic Games can not inspire people to overcome differences if they are boycotted.

Countries who host the Olympics should be held accountable for their actions. The IOC and Sports Organizations should be active in ensuring that their events are safe for athletes and that human rights are respected.

I hope that after hearing protest calls regarding the 2008 and 2014 Olympics in particular, the IOC will look at human rights as one of the attributes for future Olympic hosts.

Hosting the Olympics should be an avenue for countries to review their policies. There were calls to boycott the London and Vancouver Olympics (among many more). Brazil and South Korea will be next. The perfect country is rare so let's take the opportunity to make changes instead of calling for boycotts.

The IOC (and as we saw the International Track and Field Federation last week) have rules about making political or religious statements during competitions. If rainbow flags (or rainbow coloured finger nails combined with #pride tweets) are not allowed at past Olympics, I don't believe that they should change the rules to allow them this time.

The Olympics is an opportunity to put our differences aside for two weeks and focus on the competition. That's not to say that we ignore what is happening in host countries but the time to do something is before and after.

I would hope that strong messages to Russia in the next few months would make them change the laws before the Games, but if it doesn't, the media should help by giving the athletes the attention during the Olympics instead of glorifying the host country and its leader. Let's focus on the competitions and not televise the Opening and Closing Ceremonies (as a small gesture of protest). Our world leaders should not sit in the "dignitary box" with Putin. The media should report on the life of gays in Russia.  There are multiple ways that the message can be made that are much better than boycotting the Olympic Games and there are individuals much more qualified to find those ways than I am. Speak out rather than sit out.

Let's make that message clear while letting the athletes do what they have worked their whole lives for with the support of their families and friends.

Let's focus on the end goal - to get the laws changed - rather than focusing on punishing Russia (and athletes) by ruining their potential moment in the spotlight.

No comments:

Post a Comment