Olympic boycott not the best solution

By Jillian Correira

Russia’s newest “anti-gay” legislation, which bans spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on June 30. This anti-gay law is Russia’s most recent addition to their already hostile and oppressive history with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and intersex community.

Courtesy of Facebook/The Olympic Games

The 2014 Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held in Sochi, Russia, and there have been contradicting statements as to whether or not Russia’s anti-gay law will be enforced during the games. On Aug. 12, Russia’s Interior Ministry confirmed that the law would, in fact, be enforced during the Olympics, but Alexander Zhukov, the head of Russia’s National Olympic Committee, went on to clarify that LGBT athletes taking part in the Olympics should not worry about their safety as long as “a person does not impose his or her views in the presence of children.”

Unsurprisingly, there have been calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics based on this new law and Russia’s (often violent) mistreatment of the LGBT community, as well as concern over how LGBT athletes will be treated while participating in the games. On the other hand, some, including President Barack Obama, are arguing against the movement to boycott the Olympics, saying a boycott could make the atmosphere in Russia worse for the LGBT community and hurt the wrong people.

Here’s the dilemma: if the United States boycotts the Olympics, many athletes who have trained their whole lives for this event will not be able to compete. However, a boycott would send a strong disapproving message to Russia as well as certify that no LGBT athlete will be arrested or targeted during the games under Russia’s obtuse and vague law.

In my perfect fantasy world, an Olympic boycott would be successful in all the ways proponents would like it to be. It would protect athletes and demonstrate to Russia that the United States will not stand with a country so brutally involved in grotesque discrimination and violations of basic human rights.
However, in a not-so-perfect reality, a boycott would come with consequences, ones that outweigh the benefits.

The most obvious involves the athletes. A boycott would mean unfairly forcing athletes, who have worked tireless hours training for the games, to suffer the consequences of a boycott they might not even support. I’d endlessly admire the bravery of any athlete who decided on their own personal accord not to participate in the games, as putting a personal political belief before a lifetime passion would not be an easy decision to make. But to impose a boycott on athletes who deserve their moments to shine would negate how hard they’ve worked to earn them.

Additionally, the Russian roots of hatred for the LGBT community go far deeper than a boycott could reach. Russian homophobia is a complex mix of intense nationalism, xenophobia, and a resistance to Western ideologies. A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that 74 percent of the Russian population is, in one way or another, against homosexuality.

Sure, a boycott would send the right message, but the message isn’t strong enough to penetrate years of homophobia and Putin’s decision to turn to the Russian Orthodox Church for political guidance.

However, rejecting a boycott does not mean rejecting LGBT rights. The only appropriate way for the United States to handle the Olympics situation is to allow our athletes to compete in the games. If they win, it would hopefully show Russians who support the anti-gay law that being gay or lesbian or transgender isn’t a flaw or a deviance. Because what better platform to celebrate international acceptance of the LGBT community than at an event held for the best athletes – varying in race, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation – from around the world?

Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein recently commented on the Olympics controversy in support of the boycott, saying “you cannot just ignore evil.” I completely agree with this sentiment, but disagree with how to approach it. To “ignore evil” would be to stay home in protest. To “not ignore evil” would be to participate in the Olympics instead of giving in to Russia’s long-standing fixation that it is not a westernized nation. A boycott would only serve as the validation Russia is looking for.
Fierstein went on to say that “you must fight injustice wherever that injustice is.” And that’s a lot easier when you’re not at least 4,500 miles away.

Jillian Correira is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]u.