Should Australia have boycotted the Sochi Olympics?
As we head into the Sochi Olympics this week, a cloud continues to hang over the games. Russia’s anti-gay and lesbian crackdown has made international headlines, bringing into question the right of the country to host the Olympics.
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin, signed legislation that banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors”.
The law is extensive, fundamentally threatening the rights of anyone to publicly express any gay-rights sentiment. The bill is shaped off similar legislation that was adopted in St Petersburg two and a half years ago. It also follows multiple bans on gay pride marches in Moscow, fines given to gay rights groups who have been accused of acting as ‘foreign agents’ and the denial registration to other non-governmental organisations. Alongside all of this, violence, intimidation and harassment has risen.
In other words it is very bad. An awful attack on some pretty basic democratic rights.
The question therefore must be asked, should we have boycotted the Olympics? Should we have made Russia pay the ultimate price for their crackdown? And are we sending the wrong message – that you can attack rights and not suffer because of it – by attending, and watching, the games?
This has certainly been the argument many have made, making connections to the ‘stain on the five rings’ that occurred when the Olympics were held in Berlin in 1936. British actor Stephen Fry has argued:
“An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillehammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.”
The argument is convincing. Attacks on rights such they cannot be swept under the carpet, approved of, or hidden away. And allowing Russia to continue to reap the benefits of the Olympics could easily be seen to do that.
But whilst a boycott may seem like the natural response to the attacks, it is not necessarily the one that will lead to the repeal of the legislation and the reversal of the crackdown. In fact, it could have the opposite effect. To understand this, we need to have a look at the reasons behind the attack in the first place. To do so I spoke to Andre Banks, the co-founder and Executive Director of All Out, an organisation that been campaigning heavily on the issue. Andre stated: