Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Boycott Sochi? From Russia with Not-So-Much Love

Now is a good time to believe in equal rights for LGBT people.  We are seeing massive progress in Western Europe with the passing of Equal Marriage in France, England and Wales and 83% of the British public saying they'd be 'comfortable' with the newly born royal baby ending up gay, not to mention the overturning of Prop 8 and DOMA in the United States.

It's a cruel irony that we live in a world where these great strides in equal rights are being made where a couple of thousand miles to the East in Russia human rights are being stripped away from the gay community.

Earlier this month the President Putin signed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but also to any couple or single parent living in any country where marriage equality exists in any form. Earlier he had also deemed it legal to arrest any foreigner or tourist who was suspected of being either gay or lesbian or a gay rights supporter. Thirdly, earlier in June he passed yet another anti-gay bill branding 'homosexual propoganda' as pornography. It seems possible that under this third, broad law any parent, teacher or public official who suggests that homosexuality is normal could be charged.

Just to drive the nature of this hostile environment home, Buzzfeed showed the chaos that erupted around gay-rights protests across Russia. Blood, violence and rainbow flags.
The difference is that Russia is soon going to be under the world's gaze as host of the two largest sporting events in the world: next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, happening in just under 6 months and also as host of the Fifa Football World Cup in 2018.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine implied on Twitter that sporting contests should not be used as a political mouthpiece for progressive, liberal countries' values. I would tend to agree with this statement, but sport has always been tied in with global politics. From the propaganda of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany to the exclusion of South Africa from the Games for 28 years due to its apartheid policies, global sporting events have been used as vessels used for political ends. If gay rights is an issue that Western Europe and North America take seriously, then why should these events be overlooked?

It is not just the fact that Russia's principles clash so much with those of more progressive countries. Under their new laws any athletes, spectators or journalists entering Russia to take part in the Games or the World Cup who are gay, suspected of being gay or accused of being gay can be jailed, fined and/ or deported. 

It should be mentioned that the International Olympic Committee has issued a statement saying that they would 'work to ensure' no discrimination against LGBT people. Although how that would be enforced is unclear. Their official statement read:

In the past I have had a torn attitude towards the fight for equal rights in other countries. I am rather anti-interventionalist when it comes to the internal affairs of other countries. I believe that imposing (often Western) ideals upon a country with a different history and culture can often do more harm than good. Disapproval can be expressed in exclusion from international organisations or trade embargoes to show principle. You aren't going to change a foreign nation's psyche overnight. 

"The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation... [The organisation will make sure] the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media."

In terms of diplomacy I don't believe that there is going to be much action on this issue. Iceland is so far the only nation to have altered its diplomatic status, with cultural and political ties being cut between Reykjavík and Moscow. Russia is just too damn big and important for anyone to shake that bear's cage.

There is a petition you can sign here and a boycott you can join here if you want your voice to be heard. I personally will be writing to MPs to give this issue more awareness. 

With the chances of a boycott being effective low we can only hope that the large amount of media attention that the country will face while hosting these sporting events will improve awareness and understanding of these issues. Like with China's human rights record in the run up to the 2008 Olympics, nothing can avoid the floodlit glare of media scrutiny. 

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