When the 1980 Moscow Olympics were boycotted over the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan, Soviet troops did not suddenly pull out of the country. When the USSR and other Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles over anti-communist sentiment, the United States did not suddenly accept communism. Banning South Africa from the games did not end apartheid. Why would a boycott of the Russian winter Olympics in response to the new Russian law that prohibits any sort of “gay propaganda” be any different?
Any boycott of the Olympic games would send a strong message, but in the end it is just that–a message. If history is any example an Olympic boycott does not cause an end to the injustice that it is trying to stop. A message is sent, but in the end the boycott will do more harm than good.
The boycott will end up hurting athletes who have trained their lives for the event. Proud and out athletes like Blake Skjellerup, Johnny Weir, Ireen Wüst, and Vibeke Skofterud have already said that they will not allow this ban to stop them from competing. This kind of strength and dedication shows how far these athletes are willing to go in order to live their dreams. If countries decide to boycott the Sochi Olympics they not only send a message to the Russian government, but they also send a message to their athletes. This message says their hard work will have to wait another four years.
In the end it comes down to a choice. Athletes should be allowed to choose whether or not they are going to participate in the games; they should not be forced to bow out. It’s the athlete’s choice to bow out for his or her own safety. The IOC has said that the Olympics are not a place for political demonstrations, and I agree with that. It’s not a place for countries, or their athletes, to make a political statement. The Olympics are for competing. Athletes should not be pressured by governments, or by the media, or by aging celebrities like George Takei about what they should or should not do politically.
We have to show Russia we will not simply abide this discrimination, but this cannot be achieved by boycotting the Olympics. The strongest message we can send is our athletes to the podium in Sochi to show President Putin that we will not be silenced.
Image CC Guillaume Paumier on Flickr