In a letter comparing the situation to that which the international community faced during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Stephen Fry strongly urged Prime Minister David Cameron and the International Olympics Committee to ban the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, citing their recent anti-gay legislation and overall hostile policy toward the LGBT community.
He urged International Olympics Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge and his fellow committee members to “take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent”.
“It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 is simply essential,” he wrote.
“Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillehammer, anywhere you like. At all costs (Russian President Vladimir) Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.”
Russia’s current legislative stance on homosexuality is a violation of basic human rights, to put it lightly. There are steep fines for providing any material or information about LGBT issues to minors, to hold or participate in gay pride parades, or even to speak out in defense of LGBT rights. Those who protested the law were beaten and arrested. All of this was announced, as PolyMic points out, as Putin announced his divorce from his wife Lyudmila. I guess he took a page from the Newt Gingrich playbook of unconscionable self-serving immorality.
In light of this, allowing Russia to host the Olympics without protest would be wholly irresponsible, but going forward with any sort of ban won’t solve the problem either. If we pull our own athletes, we would just repeat what we did with the USSR in 1980 by giving the Russians a boost in their medal count. Plus, it would keep our own Olympic hopefuls from taking part in something that may only happen once in their lifetime. It likely can’t – or just won’t – be moved somewhere else (but not for a lack of trying … we’ll see). Gabe Zichermann proposes a practical idea for hitting Russia where it might actually make a difference:
So what can be done? We believe that the most important — and achievable — strategy is to prioritize humanitarian aid to LGBT Russians. The best way is to demand that Western nations streamline asylum procedures for gay Russian nationals. This would be accomplished by temporarily lifting restrictions on the number of refugees who can apply and ordering border agencies to consider the climate for Russian gays as one of systematic persecution. This doesn’t eliminate the need for background checks and a competent evaluation by officials, but it would encourage gays and lesbians to consider emigration as a viable alternative to living their lives underground, hunted for who they are.
I really like this idea. It not only has a satisfying symmetry to it considering recent events with Edward Snowden, but because it gives those people who are the target of Russia’s persecution an easier path to safety … even if it is still a bit relative.