Why I’m Watching, Not Boycotting, Sochi
A lot of people are boycotting the Olympics. They are ignoring away from the instinct to watch the biggest sporting event in the world in order to make a statement. They are protesting the Olympics in Russia to protest the Russian government’s abysmal treatment of the LGBT community. Which is a valid, and honorable thing to protest. I’ve been working for Amnesty International since the start of this year, and the number of issues I’ve written about that are nothing more than discrimination based on sexual orientation in Russia is pathetic. But I am not boycotting the Olympics.
It isn’t just because I like the Olympics. Although that is certainly a part of it. I like the Olympics. I like watching the best athletes in the world push each other and push themselves. I like learning about new sports that the world pretends to ignore (curling, anyone?). I like rooting for my team, or the team of the country I’m currently in, or against them, or whatever. But this year, I’m watching the Olympics for another reason.
I’m rooting for the gays. I’m supporting all the designers who intentionally gave their country’s uniforms a rainbow theme in protest of the Russian anti-gay laws. I’m silently cheering for the Austrians and the Dutch and the Slovenians that came out and announced their sexuality only because they wanted Russia to know they were coming. And I’m silently cheering for all the LGBT athletes who didn’t come out publicly, for whatever reason, and are competing. Because athletes, like anyone else, have the right to reveal or not reveal their sexual orientation as they see fit.
I’m hoping, and praying, that these ladies each win a gold medal. I’m hoping that some lesbian athlete stands to receive her medal and then turns to hug and kiss her parter. I’m hoping that a gay athlete stands on a podium and raises his fist in an act of defiance and as a symbol of fight.
I’m hoping that the images of these events race across the internet as fast as McKayla Maroney’s “not impressed” face after winning the silver, but that they also become as timeless as John Carlos and Tommie Smith in 1968. I’ll be watching, because I want to see them as they happen.
I’ll be watching the Olympics because I want to see gay athletes and straight athletes compete side by side like nothing is different about it, like nothing is wrong with it. Because nothing is different about it, and nothing is wrong with it. I’ll be watching for when the straight athlete congratulates the gay athlete for beating him fair and square, and for when the same thing happens the other way around.
I’m hoping that Google keeps not only the rainbow Doodle for the duration of the Olympics, but also the excerpt from the Olympic Charter on its homepage:
“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
I’ll be listening to and reading the incredible conversations that are starting up now on the internet and around the world. I’ll be adding to the conversations, because these conversations are the only way to move forward.
Boycotting the Olympics doesn’t hurt Russia. It might hurt NBC and other carriers around the world, but it doesn’t hurt Russia. It definitely hurts the athletes who have worked their whole lives for this moment, by denying them the attention they deserve.
Talking about the reality in Russia, however, does hurt Russia. It negatively affects international perception of the nation. International discussion is often known by another, more political name: diplomacy. In democratic nations, the nations that are most likely to have any appreciable influence on Russian actions, the general consensus of the people is the easiest and fastest way to encourage our governments to take any action at all. I’m working with Amnesty International (not just because that’s my internship this semester) by signing petitions to tell the Russian government directly that what they are doing is wrong. I’m watching the brilliance around the world, like this video from Canada:
I’m not oblivious to the horrific realities of the life members of the LGBT community in Russia lead. I’m not oblivious to the laws Russia has been passing against distribution of anything supporting gay rights and against openly displaying a “non-normal” sexuality. But I’m choosing to view the Olympics as the international sporting event they are. I’m taking another part of the Olympic Charter and employing it as my philosophy for the next two weeks:
The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
I am choosing to watch the Olympics for the fun and the sport, while also watching Russia with a critical eye. And I am simultaneously encouraging everyone I know to do the same. Because if the Olympics become nothing more or less than a political platform, they lose their first and foremost purpose: sport.