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Boycotting the Sochi Winter Olympics

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protest boycott sochi olympicsLesbians are “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death, Russian police stand idly by.

Green MP Caroline Lucas has written to Foreign Office Minister David Lidington expressing her “deep concerns” at Russia’s anti-gay legislation and says Britain should boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics – unless it is moved from Russia.

Russia’s treatment of gay people is not just historically disgraceful, as Philip Hensher pointed out in The Independent recently, but, unlike almost everywhere else in the world, it is getting considerably worse.

A new law, passed in June, made it illegal to speak well of homosexuality in public. Violence against homosexuals and lesbians is commonplace, and horrifying in its scale, and visitors to the Sochi-based Olympics have been warned that they must act in accordance with Russia’s laws, or face the consequences.

Lucas is one of several liberal activists supporting the idea of a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

In an open letter to the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the head of the Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, and other members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), including Sebastian Coe, Stephen Fry compared the position of gay people in Russia to the position of Jews in Germany in 1936.

In both cases, laws limited their freedom, and concerted acts of violence mounted – with the connivance of the state – against their persons and their property.

And given the stories coming out of Russia over the last few months, organised violence a la Reichskristallnacht against gay bars in Moscow does not seem a completely implausible prospect.

Every time, wrote Fry, ‘a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself’.

Needless to say, Hensher points out, the sports establishment is, on the whole, against a boycott.

Part of this, said Hensher, is the usual response, that ‘it would be a terrible shame, after all, for all those boys and girls who have practised so long and so hard if they were to miss out on their chance of a bronze medal’.

And attendance at Sochi will be promoted with talk of the Olympics “bringing people together”.

Lamine Diack, the President of the International Association of Athletes Federation (IAAF) and member of the IOC has said that he thinks there is “no problem whatsoever” with Russia’s anti-gay laws.

Possibly a view influenced by the fact that it is illegal to be gay in Diack’s home country of Senegal where gay people face prison terms of up to five years.

David Cameron has tweeted that it would not be appropriate to boycott the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics – but that he ‘had great sympathy’ for the plight of the country’s LGBT community.

But as human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told PinkNews: “David Cameron says he opposes a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics, I want to know what he is going to do to challenge homophobia in Russia.

“So far he hasn’t given any answers and if he doesn’t come up with a plan he will in affect be colluding with the Putin regime.”

Puzzled here.

How can it be considered right to go to a country that, in recent years, and with deliberation, has taken steps to prevent any expression of the rights of its gay and lesbian citizens?

A country where appalling anti-gay violence is not only commonplace, but in many instances not prevented by the forces of law and order?

In August 2012, Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot were jailed for two years for staging an anti-Vladimir Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral on 21 February 2012, with a song that mentioned the country’s persecuted LGBT citizens.

And in July this year, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, condemned the advance of marriage equality in the West, calling it a symptom of the apocalypse, although he cautioned against punishing people for their sexuality.

On the other hand, speaking in an interview with the Associated Press last week, senior IOC member, Gerhard Heiberg of Norway, suggested that Russia could lose the games if it did not adhere to the Olympic Charter, which the country signed upon agreeing to host the event.

“They have accepted the words of the Olympic Charter and the host city contract, so either they respect it or we have to say goodbye to them,” he said.

Meanwhile, as Hensher pointed out in The Independent, gay people will go on being prosecuted and violently assaulted and murdered.

And going to Sochi will be a stain on the reputation of those who make a living from sport.

But, as Hensher says, the stain will not be a new one.

In July an organisation representing LGBT people in Russia announced it was opposed to any boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics – because they say participation is an important way of highlighting injustice.

Maybe it is time for a bit more solidarity, and each and every Olympian should stand up wearing rainbow colours and shout “I am Spartacus!”

However, a petition calling for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics to be relocated to Vancouver, has gathered almost 158,000 signatures. Feel free to add yours.

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