Monday, July 22, 2013

Pin defiance

To say, as some athletes do, that the Olympics should be "above politics" is incredibly naive—they compete as representatives of countries, after all. So what to do about the Winter Olympics in Russia, a country that has newly-enacted harsh anti-gay laws?

Openly gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup has one approach: He will wear a rainbow pin to show his support for the increasingly oppressed LGBT community in Russia, according to an article on Vocativ (video above). This may sound like a small thing, but the new anti-gay laws mean that even tourists can be arrested, held for two weeks and then deported if they dare to show public support for LGBT people.

The Russian government has already denied a permit for a Pride House in Sochi. This was a popular spot in the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Olympics for gay athletes and supporters alike. Not this year, not in the new Russia.

Of course, the law also affects heterosexuals: Suppose a parent watching the games tells their under-18 son or daughter that Skjellerup is gay. That could get the parent arrested for breaking the anti-gay law.

The real targets of the law obviously aren’t athletes or Olympics spectators: The real point is repression. The Russian government is in the process of closing down LGBT organisations in the country, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has been using Soviet-style repression to get rid of anyone who might oppose him politically. These are not good days for ol’ Mother Russia. Moving from the old Soviet dictatorship to become a functioning democracy was always a tall order, and now, as it reverts to its old ways, we’ve seen that maybe it was too tall an order.

I haven’t made up my mind on whether or not athletes should boycott the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Athletes spend years of hard work—and a lot of money—to get to the point where they can compete, and most Olympic athletes get only one chance. On the other hand, no one should support Russia, and it’s stupid to argue that going to the Olympics isn’t supporting Russia. Maybe Blake Skjellerup has found a possible middle ground—but I wonder if he’s really prepared to be arrested, should he be at the Olympics, because Vlad isn’t fooling around.

I never really watch the Winter games, but I may make a point to watch events that Blake Skjellerup is in. If he follows through with his symbolic protest, he will be a very brave man, indeed—far more so, apparently, than the International Olympic Committee could ever dream of being.


rogerogreen said...

Hmm. Lindsay Graham & others have been talking about boycotting the Olympics because Russia is keeping Edward Snowden. So I dunno - the 1980 boycott of Moscow (over Afghanistan!) lead to the 1984 boycott in LA, and diminished both games. Mostly, though, I hate the idea that the boycott could be seen as supporting Lindsay Graham.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yeah, if Lindsey's for something, by definition I pretty much have to oppose it…