“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal,” says Vladimir Putin as he signs off his infamous New York Times Op-Ed piece about US intervention in Syria. But what about the gays Mr. Putin?
Last December, Russia decided to ban the adoption of Russian children by people who reside in countries that have legalized gay marriage. The logic being that there is a chance that LGBT parents might adopt Russian children, therefore it’s better to have these children to rot in the Russian orphanage system. If the Russian government feels this strongly about the evilness of LGBT individuals, then we should feel equally as strongly about our condemnation of Russia’s bigotry. We should boycott the Sochi Olympics.
If we allow the games to go on unencumbered, we allow the sports to overshadow the struggle of LGBT peoples and activists in Russia; we allow our own desire for national identity and sporting success to trump real pain and suffering. Believe me when I say, the coverage of the Olympics will rarely mention the human rights abuses of Putin. And when they do, it will be in passing; a 30 second sound bite in between a hockey game and a slalom race. Russian gays deserve better than that.
When Putin says there is no discrimination against gays in Russia, he is trying to quell our fears and hush our objections. The problem is, no matter how vocal our objections are back home, the Russian people will never hear them. The Ukrainian people will never hear them. Middle eastern people will never hear them. All we do is revel in our own self-righteous indignation while being ineffectual, if not wholly destructive, to the cause of gay rights around the world.
The strongest message of condemnation we can send is when we refuse to participate in these sham Olympics and we refuse to recognize these unjust LAWS. Whenever anyone thinks about the hockey at the Olympics, they will have to consider why Canada, who won gold, is not there. Whenever a news reporter mentions skiing in Sochi, they will have to explain why Canada is not there. Whenever anyone even considers Sochi Olympics, they will be forced to confront why the former host, the country that won the most amount of gold medals previously, is not present. To me that is the strongest message we can send.
This message is robust, in that we are willing to sacrifice our success at the Olympics in pursuit of a nobler end. This message is powerful, in that at every turn people will be faced with our protest. And the message will be far reaching, for when the entire world turns their eyes to Sochi they will see Canada standing up for Human Rights around the world.
If this encourages one LGBT activist in Russia to have hope, then I think it is worth it. If one teen in Eastern Europe sees our actions and feels that maybe they don’t have to hate who they are, then I think it is worth it. If one child stops feeling that they should take their own life because we show them that there is a place for them in this world despite all the hate they face, then I think it is worth it.
I recognize this is a lot to ask of our athletes, gay or not, who have been training for years for this one chance. But if we shy away from doing what is right because the cost is too high, we are nothing but cowards. Doing what is right is never easy, but we have to recognize what is most important in life. I believe that is the ability of all people to feel safe in their own identity.
The Olympics and the IOC have stood up for human rights in the past. The IOC banned South Africa from participating in the 1964 Olympics due to Apartheid, and in 1988 adopted a declaration against “apartheid in sport.” If Russia’s laws were against black people, or Jewish people, we would be unquestioning in our boycott of the games. We should take the same action for LGBT peoples around the world.
Let there be no mistake, these games are important to Putin and the Russian state because this is how Putin will introduce the new, modernized Russia to the rest of the world. If we allow Putin to get away with showing us a bigoted Russia without the harshest of condemnations, we fail in our duty to uphold all that is good and just.
– Denizhan Uykur
Canadian athletes have trained their entire lives in the hopes that one day they would have the opportunity to represent their nation in the Olympic Games. To strip them of that opportunity, in an attempt to send a political message would be deeply unjust. Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that the Russians would respond positively to such action. Canada should go down the path of engagement. We should not boycott the Sochi Games.
There is no question that Russia’s discriminatory practices against homosexuals are abhorrent. Canada should pressure Vladimir Putin and his government to abandon their antiquated treatment of sexual minorities. Yet, a boycott of the Olympics would be the wrong approach in pursuing this goal.
There are three distinct reasons why Canada should allow its athletes to compete in Russia this February. First, a boycott would be extremely unfair to Canadian athletes. Second, the Olympics should focus on international sport, absent political considerations. Third, boycott is the wrong method to create change in Russia.
It’s not just that our athletes have made innumerable sacrifices over the course of their lives. Olympic athletes are unique. In many cases, they train their whole lives for a chance to compete once in the holy grail of international competitions. If Canada boycotts the Sochi Games we will be denying Canadians their one and only chance to capture Gold at the Olympics.
Take Alex Harvey for instance, the twenty-five year old cross-country skier from Quebec City. In the 2011 World Championships, Harvey and his teammate Devon Kershaw made history. They won gold in the team sprint, becoming the first Canadian men to ever reach the podium in cross-country skiing. The Sochi Games are Harvey’s chance to be rewarded for a lifetime of hard work. He’ll be past his prime by the time Pyeongchang rolls around. It would be unfair for Canada to deny Harvey and his fellow Olympians the opportunity that they’ve been working towards their entire life. Harvey deserves his chance at Olympic Gold.
While Canadian Olympians have spoken out against Russia’s anti-gay legislation, they’ll be all business when they arrive in Russia in just over three months. The Olympics are a display of the most spectacular athletic ability that our world has to offer. The Games provide an opportunity for different peoples across the world to come together. For two weeks in February, we can transcend our political differences. We may disagree with Russia, but perhaps the Olympics will remind us that when it comes down to it, we’re not so different after all.
That engagement might just open the door to a constructive dialogue with Russia. If Canada attends the Olympics, we can negotiate with Russia in the future. We stand a chance at persuading Putin to roll back his oppressive legislation.
A Canadian boycott of the Sochi Olympics will be hugely embarrassing for the Russian regime. This embarrassment will not result in anything positive. Russia will look inwards, the government will attempt to further define itself in opposition to the West, and the LGBT community will be no better off.
If we hope to one day, see a Russia where all citizens are treated with the same level of dignity and respect that they are in Canada, then we must not boycott the Olympic Games. Change will not occur quickly enough for the many Russians that are suffering in the status quo. Yet, only through engagement with Russia, will we be able to help them.
(The views expressed in this article may not reflect the views of the authors or the McGill Debating Union)