Fair-minded athletes should bow out of the Olympics this year

While the situation for gay Russians seems to get worse as they face a hostile government, only too thrilled to marginalize and victimize them. Many have called for various boycotts – some ridiculous (dumping Russian vodka) – and despite my reticence in promoting a boycott against the Sochi Winter Games – I don’t see any other solution.

Comedian, raconteur, Renaissance man, and just general awesome dude, Stephen Fry, penned a beautiful letter to UK prime minister, David Cameron and the IOC, pushing for a change in location to a more civilized city that doesn’t brutalize gays.

In a time when relations between the United States and Russia are tense (along with the absurd homophobia, Russian leader has granted asylum to the source of the NSA leak Edward Snowden), lawmakers and representatives of the Russian government aren’t calming fears that gay athletes will be caught in the web of these ridiculously archaic and backward laws.

The response has been troubling to say the least: while Russia assures the international community that things will be okay, as long as the gay athletes play nice and follow the rules, there are some troubling details emerging including murky rules that the IOC itself would enforcing including a ban on any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda.” What this all means remains distressingly unclear – would gay couples be evicted, jailed, fined if they are seen holding hands or embracing? Would wearing a rainbow flag in support of gay rights be in violation of these rules?

Because the IOC has decided to wade into these dirty waters of discrimination and injustice, it’s up to the committee to also draft a clear and unambiguous list of dos/don’ts so that participating athletes understand what’s in store for them if they decide to travel.

Or better yet, how about we don’t travel to countries that treat people like crap?

I can’t imagine the IOC settling on a country that would routinely discriminate and brutalize Jews, Muslims, women, blacks – and if there was such a lack of thought and care, then I cannot imagine the IOC reaffirming awful, discriminatory laws and social mores.

But maybe I’m naive.

In the past few years, the gay rights movement has seen an accelerated progression, thanks mainly to an enthusiastic president, a receptive government (that allows for freedom of thought and expression as well as protections of rights), and a growing generation of citizens who are tiring of the status quo where rules of morality were rigidly set by an increasingly irrelevant group of thinkers.

But the world as a whole, hasn’t caught up – there are still countries that brutalize racial, ethnic, national, sexual, and religious minorities. There are countries that still deny women parity and equal protection and access to political or financial freedom. There are still countries that enforce their own versions of apartheid or Jim Crow. And when the IOC is looking for host countries for the Olympic games, it is up that committee to choose wisely, so that all the athletes feel safe when participating.

I know that a boycott would be painful – many of these athletes work their whole lives, training, to compete, and a boycott could potentially scuttle any hopes of a pro career. That is why I believe that should a boycott to the Sochi games happen (which I think is the only viable option at this point), I don’t think the competitors should take that decision lightly, nor do I think that those who cross the picket line, so to speak, should be judged harshly.

On the Tonight Show, President Obama expressed impatience at countries that treat gays badly. I share in our president’s irritation – I cannot believe that there are lawmakers in Russia so far behind the curve: countries in Western Europe, North and South America, as well as South Africa, have figured this issue out – what’s the hold up? For Putin and his crew to decry homosexuality as detrimental to society is about as evolved and intellectual an opinion as believing the world is flat or that there is a giant teapot circling the sun (thanks, Bertrand Russell). If we continue to play in fraternity (and sorority) with other countries, the onus is on the IOC to ensure that the participating athletes are safe.

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Filed under commentary, Nonfiction, politics

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