• Winter Olympics 2014

Anti-gay legislation causes Russia Olympic headache

ESPN staff
August 7, 2013
Gay rights activists hold a banner during a recent protest in Red Square © AP

There are calls, mainly originating in the USA, for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to be boycotted because of Russia's recent passing of new anti-gay legislation and the country's sports minister insisting the law would be enforced during the Games.

While it seems highly unlikely there will be any such action, even the talk of boycotts has stirred memories of a succession of Olympics in the 1970s and 1980s which were blighted by stayaways. Perhaps the most famous was the USA's boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games in retaliation for the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Let them play

  • The only previous time the Olympics were held on Russian soil, the United States boycotted those 1980 Summer Games to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. With six months remaining before the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, some Americans are calling for another Olympic boycott.

    Interestingly, these calls are coming from both the left (Tony winner Harvey Fierstein wants to boycott the Olympics due to Russia's new anti-gay laws) and the right (South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham wants a boycott because Russia provided asylum to Edward Snowden, who leaked secrets from the National Security Agency). Regardless of their political views, both sides are wrong. The United States should not boycott the Sochi Olympics.

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On Tuesday night Barack Obama weighed in saying he expected Russia to be welcoming to gay and lesbian athletes and adding he had "no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.

"I think [Vladamir] Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work," Obama said on The Tonight Show. "And I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently.

"And if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track, or in the swimming pool, or on the balance beam, and people's sexual orientation shouldn't have anything to do with it."

In the aftermath of that interview the International Amateur Athletics Federation urged Russia to reconsider its position but said it did not want the issue to affect the upcoming World Championships in Moscow.

IAAF deputy general secretary Nick Davies said the organisation "has to respect the laws of the land" regardless of any personal feelings. He added that the IAAF's charter is clearly opposed to any discrimination against sex, religion or gender.

Reacting to the news, Stephen Fry said a boycott was "simply essential" adding: "At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world. He is making scapegoats of gay people just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it."

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