Since Stephen Fry’s open letter to David Cameron and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) I have seen many misapprehensions from people defending the hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games at Sochi, Russia (cough cough Daily Telegraph cough cough). The same arguments as to why the Games should go ahead despite Russia’s human rights violations go round and round so I thought I would list the principal ones I’ve seen and my suggested responses. I’m sure there are more around – please add your own in the comments!
“There are lots of places which don’t respect human rights, why aren’t they complaining about Saudi Arabia and Uganda and just concentrating on Russia?” Well Saudi Arabia and Uganda aren’t hosting the Olympics! And if they were I would argue against that too.
“We didn’t stop China having the Games and their human rights record is terrible!” True, and in my opinion the IOC shouldn’t have let them host the games. But two wrongs don’t make a right.
“I don’t see gays complaining about the appalling status of women around the world so why are they complaining when their own rights are affected?” Well you can’t fight every battle at once, and the fact that there are other injustices doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t attack one if you find it.
“It’s ridiculous to compare this situation to the Nazis, they killed loads of people!” They did, but the situation is comparable to the Nazis before they got around to killing loads of people and I think it would be good to prevent things reaching that stage…
“You should keep sport and politics apart.” The IOC’s own charter doesn’t agree with this in several places. In particular “Rule 6: Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement”. And it is naive to think that you can ring-fence sport from wider cultural considerations. In retrospect should the 1936 Berlin Games have gone ahead? Was the sporting world wrong to boycott South Africa in the time of apartheid?
“The games would never be held again if we had to find a country with an unblemished human rights record.” This is where the judgement of the IOC has to come in to play. By their own charter they are obliged to act against any discrimination currently in place.
“Russian culture is very different. Stop trying to impose your lefty opinions on the entire world!” Human rights are not relative, they are absolute. The UN, of which Russia is a member, is guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which specifies these.
“The Russian law is to stop “the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors”. What’s wrong with that?” Ah, this is a doozy. The thing is, the Russian state has played a master-stroke by naming the law in this way. Many might find the naming of the law offensive in itself because it suggests that LGBT people are second-class citizens (all the more so because it’s (supposedly) part of an anti-paedophilia campaign which wrongly suggests that there is a link between homosexuality and paedophilia) but you can see how some will not investigate further and will think to themselves “Not promoting homosexuality to minors? Sounds like a good idea to me!” However, if we take the time to scrape the surface we realise that the naming of the law is just a smoke-screen and it is really being used to ban everything from people openly saying they are gay to simply wearing a rainbow pin. The simple act of being gay is effectively criminalised. This is leading to tacit official approval for physical attacks on gays or those suspected of being gay – attacks which seem to be getting worse by the day – and there have been reports of murders.
It seems to me that the majority of people who think the Games should go ahead and view Mr Fry’s letter as hysterical either don’t realise the seriousness of the human rights violations currently going on in Russia or they are so fond of the games that they are blind to any reason that they should be boycotted. I can’t believe that anyone would remain unmoved if they saw the hideous homophobic attacks that the Russian law is promoting on its citizens – many examples are a quick Google search away if you care to check. The Olympic Games are not worthy of the “Olympic” epithet if they are held under conditions which violate the very charter of diversity, peace, and sportsmanship that the Games are founded upon.