Kinsman: Should Canada boycott the 2014 Sochi Olympics?

By: /
8 August, 2013
Jeremy Kinsman
By: Jeremy Kinsman
CIC Distinguished Fellow

We’re not there yet. Anti-gay laws were one of the reasons Obama canned his September political get-together with Putin, but mixing the Olympics and political principle has always been a complicated topic.

IOC leaders are first going to try diplomacy on Vladimir Putin, so as to rule out any extension to Sochi Games athletes of the new and hateful laws that were adopted to pander to the homophobic views of the Russian Orthodox Church (not the only church to hold them) that represents the patriotic and traditionalist constituency to which Putin is now joined at the hip politically. The Russian Minister of Sports who said that athletes who flaunt being gay would be prosecuted under these laws was repudiated by Kremlin spokesmen but the ham-fisted damage has been done.

Of course, Stephen Fry is right that the laws are intolerable on several levels. However, it is probably over-reaching to use participation in the Games as a means of coercing Russia into changing them. No one tried to coerce China into freedom of speech or political competition. Unilateral withdrawal by a strong winter games country or several would irrevocably alienate Russians who badly need upgrading on same-sex issues. They must themselves call for repeal of these laws which in effect reverse Yeltsin’s decriminalization of homosexuality in the 90s, and demonstrate how far backward Putin has taken Russia from its earlier democratic aspirations for an inclusive and fair society.

A better way to prompt the consciousness upgrade and encourage re-reform would be to embarrass the hosts – exploit the event as an opportunity to make the point, demonstrate the necessity of inclusivity, show off pink mittens and rainbow balloons at the opening ceremonies, etc. Buzz about the sub-par readiness of the Sochi project for a successful Games suggests this won’t be the only embarrassment out there. The whole of Russia needs to hear the wake-up call about what the world thinks about where Russia is heading these days.

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