DiscriminationGayHomophobiaPolitics / Activism

Why I am Boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics

[TW: Homophobia, violence, rape] 

I’m not a particularly big fan of most sports. It’s not so much that I dislike them as that I’m indifferent to them. I live in San Antonio, Texas, and Spurs fever is pretty big around here. People are always perplexed when I have no idea that there was a Spurs game, let alone that they lost the championship.

But one of the few sporting events I do get excited to watch is the Olympics. Every couple of years, the summer or winter games brings to my attention interesting and different sports than your regular, run-of-the-mill American sporting events. I love the international focus of the Olympics, moving from city to city, especially when the coverage goes into some detail about the lives and history of the people of the host city and country.

So it is particularly frustrating that I’m not going to be watching or paying attention to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. You see, like previous Olympic games, there are a number of human rights abuses associated not only with the games in Sochi, but also with the Russian government.

About a month ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law that bans “gay propaganda” (at the same time, and in response to the activism of the feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot, he signed a bill that criminalizes insulting religion, with jail time and fines as punishment). At the time of the law’s passage, many LGBT activists and critics of the law voiced concern that it would lead to an increase in homophobic hate crimes.

They were right.

A few days ago, it was reported that Neo-Nazi Russian nationalists have been using a popular social networking site to lure LGBT teens (particularly gay male teens) into traps and then torture them. Of course, the teens have no protection because of the law recently signed by Putin, so these fucking assholes are making videos of the attacks and posting them online. In the video at that link [warning: it is a graphic video], a teen from Moscow who was lured through the social media site is bullied, tortured, and doused with urine in public and in broad daylight. These are not attacks that are happening in alleyways at night.

The Russian government has also arrested and detained gay-rights activists, including four Dutch activists who were attending a human rights seminar at a summer camp. One lawmaker has called for the public flogging of gay people, as well as their “re-education.”

There is a very real and present danger for queer people in Russia. The government is actively persecuting queer people (and their allies) and creating an environment in which it is apparently acceptable to torture teenagers. Who knows what else is going on that’s not being reported. Further, LGBT folks are not the only marginalized people who are being abused and attacked. There is widespread abuse of migrant workers at Olympic construction sites. Some of the construction workers in Sochi have been brutally beaten by police, including one who was also raped with a crowbar.

There has been mounting pressure by LGBT groups to boycott the Russian Olympics. The International Olympic Committee recently released a statement ensuring the safety of queer athletes at the games (something that seems like they should be doing anyway, regardless of where the games are being held). But this is so missing the point.

While a bunch of people are playing around on ice and snow, people are being tortured and probably killed in a country which will be receiving billions of dollars in income from the games. The words of the IOC may be supportive of human rights, but their actions are not.

Figure skater Johnny Weir, whom I usually adore, wrote a blog post asking people not to boycott the Olympics. His argument is that it would harm the athletes and families of the athletes who come from poor backgrounds who have to struggle to send their family members to compete in the games. I sympathize with those families and how hard they work. The thing is, I’m not sure that it’s fair to put their financial and economic struggles ahead of the lives of people in Russia. Weir is saying that since people had to work extra jobs or give up vacations, we should look past the human rights abuses going on in the host countries by continuing to support the country by sending our athletes to compete. Sorry, but no.

It’s time for the IOC to stop allowing the games to be hosted in countries that support and encourage rampant and ongoing human rights abuses. And until they do, I am not going to be supporting any more Olympic games. I hope you will also consider voicing your support of LGBT and other marginalized Russians who are being abused and tortured by boycotting the games. You might also consider boycotting Russian products, such as Russian vodka, because it seems that sometimes the only thing some people understand is when you fuck with their money. So the more of us that refuse to give financial support to Russia, the more pressure will build. And, with any luck, perhaps the UN and other LGBT-friendly governments will join in and pressure Russia to repeal this horrendous law and stop the rampant human rights abuses.

Sadly, the cynic in me realizes that nothing will probably come of this call for a boycott of the games. I really cannot see the US boycotting the games (though it’s not unprecedented), especially considering that Comcast has spent over $4 billion to have exclusive American broadcasting rights for the Olympics. But the idealist in me cannot help making a pledge to excuse myself from participation and from encouraging others to do the same.

I hope you will join in and encourage others to do the same, too.

Featured image from The Disorder of Things, which has an excellent post regarding the politics of Russian anti-gay laws.

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Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at facebook.com/anthrowill.

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