Monday, September 23, 2013
Sochi Olympics: Gay Rights and the Power of the Boycott
In recent months, the Russian government led by political juggernaut Vladimir Putin has begun an intense anti-LGBT campaign in the country that seemingly outlaws anything that can be remotely connected with homosexuality. Any attempts to protest the laws have been met with swift and gruesome violence, with several gay pride events being broken up by police and anti-gay protestor brutality. This war on homosexuality has been brought to the forefront recently thanks to the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics, as some around the world look to the United States for leadership as to what stance should be taken. Some LGBT activists have gone so far as to promote a boycott of the Sochi Games in protest of Russia's brutal policies. Others say that the Games will provide a stage on which to engage in a more meaningful protest of the discrimination and violence occurring within Russia.
I tend to side with those who oppose a boycott. The only other boycott in U.S. history came in 1980, once again in Russia, this time at the height of the Cold War. The boycott is largely seen as ineffective and is poorly remembered as it kept hundreds of deserving athletes from competing. The far greater gesture of protest comes at the games themselves, like in 1968 when John Carlos and Tommie Smith took the podium with fists held high. A boycott will only rob someone, possibly even a gay athlete, of the chance to make their own iconic protest in the face of laws that could even directly harm them while they are in Russia for the Games. The threat of arrest or violence would make the protest that much more potent in spreading the message of defiance in the face of oppression and brutality. The choice is clear. Rather than rob athletes of their lifelong goals for the sake of a political statement, we should allow them to make their own proclamation, from the medal stand, that this type of moral failure is not tolerable. I'm sure the shouts of a champion will be louder than the silence of a government.