Forget boycotting Olympics to protest Russia's anti-gay laws
Until Russian athletes such as Alexander Ovechkin speak out against Russia's anti-gay laws, nothing will matter to the Russian government. (BEN PELOSSE/QMI Agency)
Canadian sporting icons such as Sidney Crosby can speak out against Russia’s new anti-gay propaganda laws until the cows come home and the Russian government won’t bat an eye.
Despite what people in the West may feel about the Russian government’s new anti-gay legislation — and there is a growing movement for a boycott of this winter’s Sochi Olympics — the Russians realize that there will never be a boycott of their Games and therefore likely don’t care what Crosby or any other non-Russian athlete thinks of the law forbidding the promotion of homosexuality.
The Games will go on. And they should.
All a boycott would do is punish the athletes, and the athletes don’t deserve to be punished for something they have nothing to do with. They’re innocent cogs in this play. There are other ways to protest.
Still, what might give the Russian government a jolt is if a high-profile Russian athlete spoke up against the new legislation. That might result in the Russian government losing some face, which is the most, really, we could hope for in this situation. But don’t hold your breath. It’s one thing to criticize the Harper government in Canada or the Obama administration in the U.S., but Russia is a different story. A Russian athlete could get into serious trouble for protesting their government. Russian law isn’t as touchy-feely as Canadian law. Russia is technically a democracy, but not necessarily rife with the liberties that we have. Bad things sometimes happen to Russian people (including many journalists) who speak out against their government, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the reaction of Russian athletes so far has been either supportive of the law (former New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk and pole-vault great Yelena Isinbayeva), or indifference (hockey star Alexander Ovechkin).
“I agree, of course. I’m Russian and we all have to respect that,” Kovalchuk told TSN this week, when asked about the legislation that bans the promotion of “non-traditional” relations. “It’s personal and, like I said, it’s a free world, but that’s our line. That’s our country, so everybody has to respect that.”
When Ovechkin was asked about the situation, the Washington Capitals sniper said he’d rather talk sports, not politics.
Still, it would be something if a courageous Russian athlete publicly criticized the Russian government for passing such a law, though we have to curb our frustration if that doesn’t happen.
In our enlightened society, we sometimes forget that our values don’t necessarily match those of others. A 2013 survey found that 74% of Russians said homosexuality should not be accepted by society. We don’t have to like that, but we have to accept it. Values differ the world over, and not just from country to country.
Look at what’s happening in Quebec. Polls show that 58% of Quebec residents support that province’s proposed Charter of Values, which would prohibit public employees in public offices from wearing religious headwear and symbols.
A lot of people found the “free world” statement by Kovalchuk ironic. What’s so “free” about not being able to publicly promote homosexuality?
But what Kovalchuk is probably trying to say is that the Russians should be free to do what they want, such as passing their own laws, without outside interference. Again, we don’t have to like it, but many people don’t like some of the things we do, either.
Many Muslim nations, for example, find Canada’s liberal laws, such as gay marriage, offensive. That’s just the way the world works. If something offends us, we should speak out. And we should speak out about the anti-LGBT laws in Russia, and hopefully there will be protests before and during the Sochi Games.
That’s already happening. At the world track and field championships last week in Moscow, at least two Swedish athletes competed while wearing rainbow nail polish. Still, nothing will really hit home unless a high-profile Russian protests.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar rolls around. Qatar’s homosexuality laws are more oppressive than Russia’s. Homosexual acts between adult males are illegal in Qatar, something Russia decriminalized in 1993. In 1995, an American citizen visiting Qatar was sentenced to six months in prison and 90 lashes for homosexual activity. FIFA — the world governing body of international football — is keeping a low profile on the subject for a variety of reasons, one being that they love the money holding a World Cup in a oil-rich emirate will bring.
Money talks. The Sochi Olympics will be the most expensive Games in history, meaning that the IOC would do everything in its power to prevent a boycott of the Games and certainly would never allow the event to be moved to Vancouver, as some have suggested would be an appropriate move.
There are ways to protest. Don’t buy Russian vodka. Boo Kovalchuk the next time he plays in Canada. Wave a rainbow flag in front of the Russian embassy.
But get over any boycott or relocation talk.
It’s not going to happen. Nor should it.