Russia is set to hold the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. So far the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has refused to properly engage on the issue of human rights abuses in Russia, and their silence has been noticed.
Celebrated actor and Internet royalty George Takei issued a blog post this week calling on the International Olympic Committee to move the Games away from Sochi, saying:
Russia’s cynical and deplorable actions against the LGBT community have given license to hate groups within its borders to act with violence and impunity against a group, based solely on whom they were born to love. It now seeks to spread that hate abroad through its tainted Olympics. If Russia hopes to stand with the International Community, it must accept and adopt international principles of equality and non-discrimination.
Takei is not alone.
Noted writer and celebrated intellectual Stephen Fry this week released a powerful open letter addressed to, among others, the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the IOC, asking that the Games be held anywhere else other than Sochi.
While the letter itself is worth reading in full, the main thrust is the following:
I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.
An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.
There are groups, however, that disagree with moving the Games, fearing the inevitable isolation that would follow a boycott.
The ILGA, for instance, has said that it is worried that moving the games from Sochi could give President Putin and his cohorts even more ammunition to self-aggrandize, in effect that they resisted the West’s attempts at importing acceptance of homosexuality, and that such a boycott would provide the regime time and opportunity to further pursue Russia’s LGBT population. In effect, that building a wall to boycott and punish Russia also builds a wall that cuts us off from the people who desperately need our help.
Meanwhile Russian lawmakers, the Putin administration and Russian ambassadors are denying there is a problem.
Russia’s sports minister has suggested gay activists should “calm down” about the law. Vitaly Mutko, who previously said that gay athletes would be subject to Russia’s propaganda law, has now once again spread confusion by saying that this is still true but, at the same time, that ”all rights will be protected.”
We would be forgiven for being puzzled by this when neo-Nazi groups recently tortured a young man who has now died from his injuries, while other individuals are known to have raped a man whom they believed to be gay, and when lawmakers are on record as calling for gay people to be whipped in the street.
It would also be easier to believe if Russia had not used paratroopers to break up human rights protests. Or, expanding our scope wider, if Russia was not detaining suspected illegal immigrants in what look disturbingly like concentration camps, arresting, detaining for prolonged periods or deporting journalists, and pursuing court action against any activists who dare speak out against these abuses.
Then of course there is the already well established human rights disgraces, including the Pussy Riot trial and imprisonment, the attacks on free speech and legislative attempts to purge Russia of foreign influence and oversight.
What Can You Do to Help in this Fight?
While opinion is varied, one common thread is clear: that the IOC’s persistent failure to engage with this issue is shameful, and that it amounts to tacit support for Russia to continue its onslaught.
The IOC has previously issued lukewarm statements that it is “concerned” by Russia’s anti-gay law, promising it has had assurances that LGBT athletes will be safe from the laws — assurances that have been contradicted by Russia’s lawmakers — but so far it has not engaged in any real way despite the Olympic Charter’s very clear commitment to human rights.
Also noticeably silent have been the sponsors of Sochi 2014. These are big companies, and many have in the past made quite loud noises about their “commitment” to LGBT rights. They include:
- Coca Cola
While the Sochi Games suppliers include (not an exhaustive list):
- English First
- Jet Set Sports
Note that directly under the slideshow of sponsors on the IOC sponsor page, it says:
Support from the business community is crucial to the staging of the Games and the operations of every organisation within the Olympic Movement.
If the IOC refuses to engage, we can apply pressure to the Sochi 2014 sponsors, promising that if there is no action we will hit them, the IOC and indeed Russia, where they’ll really feel it: the wallet.
If they won’t hear the cries of the Russian people as they are regularly beaten, raped, imprisoned and even tortured, they might just hear the jangle of their frightened money.
Please, join me in calling on the Sochi 2014 sponsors to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay assaults and also to use their influence to bring about meaningful change. If these companies really do have a commitment to LGBT rights, as they so often claim, inaction is not an option.
Signed? Please forward the petition to your friends. Thanks.