Thursday, August 08, 2013

Move or boycott the Olympics

When I first talked about the proposed boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I was uncertain about it. I thought that maybe there was some middle ground. There isn’t: The Winter Olympics must be moved or cancelled or they must be boycotted. There is no other acceptable alternative.

I didn’t come to this easily. As Roger Green recently noted, the rightwing in the US wants a boycott for completely different, purely political reasons (the Russian Government shielding Edward Snowden). I’m pretty much against anything and everything that Lindsey Graham wants, so I was ambivalent about a boycott largely because of Lindsey’s support.

That’s all changed.

Ever since this controversy began, one thing has been bothering me: The clear and stark similarity between what Russia is doing today and what Nazi Germany did at the very beginning of the Holocaust. The Nazis scapegoated Jews, a despised minority, and passed anti-Jewish laws. Thugs beat up, terrorised and even murdered Jews while the police ignored it—and despite it all, the world did nothing, leading inevitably to the murder of millions. Now, in Russia, the exact same thing is happening to LGBT people. Will history repeat itself?

In 1936, the world went to Nazi Germany for the Olympics in Berlin and, despite Jesse Owens, the games were largely a glorification of the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitic policies. The world must never make that mistake again, but if the Sochi games go ahead, it will make that mistake again.

Even so, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is unlikely to move the games and certainly won’t cancel them, and not merely because of their typical moral cowardice: There’s too much money involved. Still, moral cowardice is a major factor. According to the New York Times, the IOC itself will discipline any athlete who dares to protest the Russian law. So, if Blake Skjellerup really does wear the rainbow pin he said he will, he faces expulsion from the games by the IOC AND arrest, fines and deportation by the Russian Government—assuming he isn’t attacked and killed by Russian thugs first.

The price is far, far too high, and there is no “bright side” or anything that can redeem the games in any way whatsoever.

Corporate sponsors of the games, such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, who are underwriting the games, can’t say anything, even though the companies support the human rights of LGBT people. So, there’ll be no pro-equality messages at the games or overseas. Similarly, NBC, which will be covering the games for the USA, can’t broadcast critiques of the law or show protests, like a rainbow pin or flag, and they won’t be able to allow live interviewees to say anything pro-gay, because if they do, they, too, face being arrested and deported. So, there’ll certainly be no live coverage of LGBT people and supporters being beaten up or arrested and deported. The only acknowledgement—if any—will come from things broadcast within the USA and what they’re free to report once they leave Russia.

So, we have an increasingly brutal and increasingly fascistic regime in Russia that is doing to LGBT people what the German Nazis did to Jews in 1936, and we see the world about to reward and celebrate that through the Olympic Games—again, just like 1936. I wonder: When Russia moves to open genocide—and it will—will the IOC apologise for its role in enabling that? Will McDonald’s? Will Coca-Cola? Will NBC? Or will they find a sort of gay Jesse Owens who wins a medal so then they can say, “See? We really showed those fascist bastards a thing or two!”

History must not be allowed to repeat itself. The world must stand up to Russian brutality and its violent oppression of a minority. It must make clear that this sort of thing sets a country apart from the family of nations and makes them unfit to host an international event like the Olympics. So, the Sochi Games MUST be moved, cancelled or boycotted. The real alternative is to dip our hands into the blood of Russia’s victims.

Update: NBC has sought to reassure its LGBT employees working on the network's coverage of the Sochi Olympics "that it will do everything possible to keep them safe following Russia's passage of [its] anti-gay law," declaring that Russia's vicious law is "deeply troubling and diametrically opposed to everything that the Olympics symbolize."

Meanwhile, the IOC has sought yet further clarification from the Russian government. After being assured athletes, spectators and officials would be safe from persecution by Russian authorities, a high government official declared that, no, they would not be exempt. The IOC sought a written assurance, but they're now seeking even more clarification. This is good, but nowhere near good enough.


Boycott Sochi
George Takei argues It’s Time to Move the Olympics
Stephen Fry’s open letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the IOC
A young teen tortured by Russian vigilantes for being gay, may be dead (video) – AmericaBlog


rogerogreen said...

Don't disagree (though I think it'd been just as true in China). I keep thinking that the right J. Owens moment - Johnny Weir on the podium, pulling out his rainbow Putin button? - would be entertaining. Ultimately, I think the IOC should take the move like it did v. South Africa over apartheid in the 1960s and ban Russia. (There were people who thought the US ought to be treated likewise at the time!) Can a host country be banned from its Olympics?

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

If the treatment of the athletes and spectators ends up being even nearly as bad as many
observers fear, then the IOC could certainly ban Russia from future Olympics, not that I think they would, of course.I don't know whether a host country can be banned from its own Olympics, but if that happened, it would ensure violence against spectators and athletes.

I think the spectacle of a gay athlete—or a straight supporter—protesting from the podium (à la Mexico City in 1968) would make for great television, but I doubt the Russians would allow it to be broadcast. If it was, then the athlete could be expelled from the games, arrested (and probably beaten) by the Russian police, and deported—maybe on the same plane as the NBC employees and reporters who broadcast the protest. All of which might maybe—finally—make mainstream viewers see how dire the situation in Russia is.

If I were to bet, however, it would be that the Russian authorties will try hard to be on the their best behaviour and will pull their punches, literally and figuratively, in the hope they can prevent the world from seeing how truly awful Russia has become. The old expression about lipstick on a pig comes to mind, though.