Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Why we should go to Sochi

I've been giving this some thought over recent days. With all the talk between the IOC and the Russians about how the application of the anti-gay propaganda law would be enforced in next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi. This has included the first arrests of foreign nations who were interviewing people was a documentary story on the law change.

At first their were calls to boycott Russian vodkas. But I scanned the shelf at Tesco. Smirnoff is distilled in the UK, Stolichnaya is distilled in Russia but bottled in Latvia, in the EU, there are others that sound Russian that actually come from Belarus, Ukraine or Finland. If I were a big Vodka drinker it would really need a lot of knowledge to check the labels as some boycotts would actually be affecting jobs outside Russia, and the home distilled stuff would still be getting produced and drunk in Russia. Earlier today a New York bar and its customers poured Stolichnaya vodka down the drains outside the Russian Embassy, however the company has risked a lot back home when it released this statement opposing the law and supporting LGBT equality.

Then there was the call to boycott the Games themselves.

Now as some of you know I am a bit of a sportsman who once held hopes of appearing the Olympics, and until bowls qualifies I fear that day will never come, but if it does I will try and compete for Ireland. I love the Olympics, if any of your read my histories of the Summer Games or my reports of the Games last summer will attest. I'm not one for boycotting the games, mainly because the people it affects most are the athletes who have given up a four year cycle of their life to try and peak at the right time to win that medal. Think how many of you currently have a goal of what you are going to do in four years time? How many of you are willing to sacrifice more or less everything in order to achieve that goal?

But there is another reason why those athletes should be allowed to go to the Games. The nations that are most likely to object to the draconian nature of the law change in Russia are also those nations that are most likely to have the most openly LGB athletes and allies in their party. They are the nations that are most likely to make a stand live on Russian TV that is carrying the Games as the Olympic Broadcasters. People like openly gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skellerup who said he will be wearing a rainbow badge. Others both LGB and straight may be encouraged to do likewise.

These Games could well be to LGBT rights what the Blank Panther salute was in Mexico in 1968 for black civil rights in the USA. To boycott them means that the reason for the boycott will probably not get reported in Russia. I know things have moved on a bit since I didn't learn that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait until I exited the USSR and found myself back in Warsaw, 10 days later. But the press there will still be very careful about how they report a boycott, especially because of the new law. But by turning up en masse and making a statement the athletes of the world can show the LGBT population of Russia that we support them.

Others will no doubt disagree with me. But others will agree that unless we follow the example of Tilda Swinton (right) and make a statement that the people in Russia can actually see and hear we are not helping those who are LGBT in Russia. The Russian LGBT network has called not to boycott the Games but to boycott homophobia.

They talk about not knowing and LGBT people, probably because they are scared to say who they are. We are out and proud and those who support us are too, it is time to be proud that there is nothing unnatural about being LGBT and that a law against being born this way was remarkably one of the things that Russians fought and died for in the second World War.

Whether as Russian legislator Vitaly Milonov says the law will be enforced the Games come during a period known as the Olympic Truce. I would like to see whoever replaces Jacques Rogge as President of the IOC in September to make a mention of human sexuality not being a barrier to participation in the Games, in his speech at the Opening Ceremony. Having heard that sort of statement made in a few pulpits in my day I can assure you that it warms the hearts of those who feel oppressed in such situations normally. It can give them hope.

So I say we send the athletes to Sochi 2014 and provide them with rainbow badges to wear.

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