Friday, August 9, 2013

Speak Out Rather Than Sit Out

Photo credit to Chantal Kissick.

There has been a lot of talk, writing and link sharing on social media about the Sochi Olympics and Russia's new anti-gay (GLBT) laws.

I am against the laws in Russia. I believe in equal rights for all humans. I love that Olympic athletes march in pride parades in Canada where it is safe to do so.

I feel compelled to write because people are suggesting that the Sochi Olympics should be boycotted (or moved). I don't believe that this will lead to change in Russia.

I often write too long so here are the "Coles Notes":
  • Boycotting (or moving) the Olympics would lead to more boycotts in the future. It does not lead to change.
  • People hurt in the boycotts are the athletes.
  • More than 200 nations are attending the Track and Field World Championships in Russia next week (more than double the number of nations attending the Sochi Olympics). Why is this event acceptable but not the Olympics?
  • Governments, companies, organizations for change, artists, athletes can do more by speaking out than athletes can by sitting out.
  • Instead of demanding a change for the Sochi Olympics, Stephen Fry should organize a concert to raise awareness, to educate and to demand change in Russia like the Free Nelson Mandela concert, Live Aid, Live 8, etc. did.
  • Concerts for change give (multi-millionaire) artists world wide attention and allow them to do what they are trained to do.
  • Boycotts give (mostly) amateur athletes nothing and prevent them from fulfilling their dreams and doing what they are trained to do.
  • We should put pressure on the IOC to better choose host countries (and hold them to international standards after they are chosen).
If I piqued your curiosity... or my Coles Notes aren't is the novel ;-)

It seems that every two years, there are calls to boycott the Olympic Games, but this year is the loudest perhaps because the social media voice is becoming louder.

What is the goal of the protests? The goal is to change the laws in Russia. Russia will not change their laws because of an Olympic boycott/change of venue.

What will happen if countries boycott the Sochi Olympics? Russians will win more medals and the country will celebrate even more. Russia will then boycott future Games in retaliation. We saw this happen in 1980 and 1984.

If the Games get moved like is being suggested (but is not very realistic), Russia (and possibly others) may boycott the 2014 Games.

The people who are hurt by boycotts are the athletes, this includes the Russian athletes some of whom are GLBT. We are for equal rights no matter where an athlete is from right? A Russian boycott is not any better. It's the athletes who suffer.

Russia is hosting over 200 nations and almost 2000 athletes next week for the Track & Field World Championships. At the 2010 Olympics, there were 2500 athletes from 82 nations. If people protest about Russia hosting the Olympics, why aren't they about the Track and Field World Championships? Not that I want them to, I am just wondering, why the Olympics? Some people would even argue that Track & Field is more popular than Winter Olympics.

If you're making a stance on an issue, shouldn't it be for more than one event?

If we're okay with sending athletes to the World Championships, we should be okay with sending them to the Olympics.

Sochi will also be hosting a number of test events before the Games. If athletes are attending all these events, shouldn't they also attend the most important event of their careers, the Olympics?

I met a woman recently who had qualified for the 1980 Olympics. She should have been an Olympian. She never got the chance. Her Olympic dream was gone. I'm sure this was the case for many Soviet athletes who missed the 1984 Games.

When I say speak out rather than sit out, I do believe that there is a place to speak out and I don't believe that doing it in Russia is the answer.

Some people are suggesting that athletes should attend the Olympics but wave a rainbow flag or show some other sign in support of GLBT rights. If I was visiting a country where women have to be covered in public or couples are not allowed to kiss in public, I would respect their laws (even if I don't agree with them) and decrease my personal risk.

I wouldn't want to see an athlete defy the law and face the consequences. Some argue that Russia wouldn't dare react in front of a world stage. I wouldn't want to take the chance. They don't seem concerned about giving asylum to a wanted American. They also haven't freed the Pussy Riot band members who received a two year jail sentence for protesting against Putin even after receiving international pressure to do so.

Athletes attend the Olympics in order to compete. Sport brings countries together. It is a place for peace and fair play (in most cases). It is a place where enemies (by country allegiance or religion) compete and shake hands afterwards.

Even boycotting Russian vodka and other goods will hurt the Russian people, employees and manufacturers who are perhaps against the anti-GLBT laws. It will not necessarily bring change to the laws.

Stephen Fry, a very popular actor/author/director, etc. has written an open letter to GB Prime Minister David Cameron and the IOC that has been retweeted over 6000 times, brought his website down and read by possibly millions demanding that the Sochi Games do not happen.

I don't argue the facts (or opinions) on the atrocities of the Russian laws. 
I am arguing that the Olympics is not the avenue that will lead to change.

He argues that Hitler gained momentum by hosting the 1936 Olympics, but I believe the information highway of today is much wider and a simple Olympics Games would not give Putin the "confidence" that Fry says it gave Hitler. There are a lot more ways in 2014 to give Russia the message that discrimination is not acceptable and that the laws must be changed.

  • Governments. 
  • Elected officials and foreign affairs ministers. 
  • Organizations for change (Amnesty International, GLAAD, Athlete Ally,, etc.)
  • Artists/celebrities who can stage concerts for awareness, education and change (Free Mandela, Live Aid, Live 8, etc.) 

They are the ones to lead the cause for change.

Stephen Fry also argues that Russia hosting the Olympics would put a stain on the Olympic rings. Did he forget that China hosted in 2008? Are gay rights more important than human rights? I believe they are as important and Russia is not the only country with human rights issues. 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 (for all humans) are respected. I hope that after hearing protest calls regarding the 2008 and 2014 Olympics, the IOC will be more diligent in choosing host countries.

Preventing mostly AMATEUR athletes of doing what they have trained their lives to do, whose only glory is Olympic gold (or Olympic attendance) is not the way to get change.

Nelson Mandela was not freed (and apartheid abolished) from the 1976 Summer Olympics boycott but in part by the 1988 Free Nelson Mandela concert. The artists that performed at that concert got world wide attention. The athletes who boycott get no attention.

If Stephen Fry wants to fight the Russian laws, he should organize a concert, event or march. Invite artists, celebrities, athletes and world leaders who will take the stage, who will share facts, who will educate and who will demand change.

Speak out rather than sit out!

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