Russian and Western media try to figure out whether a call by the LGBT community to boycott the 2014 Winter Games to punish Russia will eventually backfire.
Gay rights activist Ken Kidd, of Manhattan, chants slogans during a demonstration in front of the Russian consulate in New York, Wednesday, July 31, 2013. Photo: AP
Debates about whether or not Western democracies should boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in protest against anti-gay legislation that came into effect in Russia in June will probably continue up to the day the Games actually kick off.
While Western media coverage of Russia's recent legislation against gay propaganda has focused on the outrage in the LGBT community and plans of some to call for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, the Russian press has tried to explain the details of the law and how it will really affect gays in Russia.
Olympic boycott: How to punish the Russian authorities?
This week saw a heartfelt call from the British author and comedian, Stephen Fry, to ban Sochi from hosting the Winter Olympics next year.
“An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential,” Fry said in an open letter to British PM David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillehammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilized world.”
Fry went on to draw a parallel between Putin and Hitler. “He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews,” said Fry, himself gay and Jewish.
Russian authorities "may claim that the 'values' of Russia are not the 'values' of the West, but this is against the hopes of millions of Russians, those not in the grip of that toxic mix of shaven headed thuggery and bigoted religion, those who are agonized by the rolling back of democracy and the formation of a new autocracy,” Fry said.
Many have called for boycotting the Sochi Olympics. In his op-ed in The New York Times, actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein called on the Olympic Committee to demand that Russia retract anti-gay legislation under threat of boycott.
“Can we allow this war against human rights to go unanswered?” Fierstein asked. “With Russia about to hold the Winter Games in Sochi, the country is open to pressure. American and world leaders must speak out against Mr. Putin’s attacks and the violence they foster.”
Meanwhile, Romesh Ratnesar of Bloomberg Businessweek made the case against the U.S. boycotting the Sochi Olympics for political reasons. “In 1980, President Jimmy Carter ordered a boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow, demanding that the Soviet Union withdraw from Afghanistan; it was another decade before the last Russian soldier left,” Ratnesar said.
Organizers promise that, during the Games, there will be no discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators, or the media. Source: PhotoXPress
Ratnesar believes that the biggest beneficiary of a U.S. boycott of the Sochi Games would be the host nation itself. “At the 1984 Olympics, the U.S. won 174 overall medals, the second-biggest haul in history – after the Soviet Union’s tally of 190 at the 1980 Games, when Team USA stayed home,” he said. “Should the U.S. boycott the Sochi Games, it’s likely that at least some of the medals the U.S. would have won will end up around the necks of Russian athletes.”
“A U.S. boycott would deprive Russia of ticket and hospitality revenue from American fans who might have planned to travel to Sochi. But that money wouldn’t have come close to offsetting the gargantuan cost of staging the Games, which at $51 billion are already the most expensive in history,” Ratnesar said. “A U.S. boycott would, however, be a massive hit to NBC, which paid $775 million for the rights to broadcast the Sochi Games.”
“Asking the United States and other nations to boycott the Olympics simply punishes 19-year-old athletes, not Vladimir Putin,” Zeigler said. “To make a real statement, to send a message to the Russians that these laws cannot stand, the IOC has to go a step further. Instead of the rest of the world refusing to go to Sochi, there’s one step that the IOC can take that will land a wake-up slap on the face of the Kremlin: Ban Russia from competing in their own Winter Olympic Games.”
That wouldn’t be the first time a nation would be banned from competing in the Olympics over discrimination of certain social groups. Over the past century, this happened to Afghanistan, Germany, India, Rhodesia and South Africa.
“The repercussions of an Olympic ban would have a ripple effect throughout Russia,” Zeigler said. “While the Russians would love an American boycott of the Games – more medals for them – being banned from competition at their own Games would help drive public sentiment.”
After the ban of Afghanistan over violations against women under the Taliban in 2000, calls swelled for Olympic bans of Saudi Arabia and Qatar due to the nations’ failure to include women on their Olympic teams. Saudi Arabia and Qatar had to concede and included a total of six women on their Olympic teams.
While a boycott or other sanctions against Russia are yet to be seen, ordinary Americans offer their response to Russia’s clampdown on LGBT community. Some U.S. bars have given up on Russian vodka, and gay rights activists staged street protests across the country spilling vodka in front of Russian consulates.
The action taken by Americans has prompted the CEO of Stolichnaya manufacturer SPI Group, Val Mendeleev, to address the LGBT community with an open letter.
In his letter, Mendeleev stated that his company “firmly opposes the recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community.”
Mendeleev cited a series of promotional campaigns that his company has sponsored over the past years, including “Be Real: Stories from Queer America,” which featured short documentaries on real life stories depicting the challenges and accomplishments of the LGBT community in the United States, as well as the company’s current exclusive national partnership with Gaycities.com and Queerty.com in search of the Most Original Stoli Guy.
'Anti-Russian gay orgy backfired on the West'
And what does the Russian press have to say on the idea of the boycott of the Sochi Olympics? One of longest-standing Russian newspapers, Trud (Labor), responded to the array of criticisms coming from the West with an editorial titled "Senior members of the global 'dovecot' keep pecking Russia". A dove, in Russian, is sometimes used to refer to gay people.
Some gays in Russia admit their homosexuality, others hide it. Source: Reuters
“A high-ranking Olympic official is very much concerned that gay athletes going to the Sochi Olympics will face terrible discrimination there,” author Sergei Frolov said. “If Mr. Carrion [Richard Carrion, IOC presidential candidate] would read the Russian law, he would discover the terrible truth – the law prohibits propaganda of homosexuality among underage youth. It is against those who are going to Sochi specifically to promote non-traditional sexual relations among teenagers. I’d like to think that even gays are going to the Winter Olympics only to compete for medals.”
Frolov called the debate in the West “blue hysterics.” Blue is another word used in reference to homosexual men in Russia
“Today gay rights activists intrude into the lives of normal people so impudently that they remind one either of bothersome sectarians or multilevel marketing agents flogging stale goods,” Frolov said. “We understand that having received a resounding slap in the face over Snowden, America is longing for revenge, but breaking into falsetto like that looks very dishonorable.”
Frolov went on to state that “this anti-Russian gay orgy backfired on the West as more people are coming to view our country as the last bastion of normal Christian morality.”
The Trud attitude is echoed in several opinion pieces published by Vzglyad, an influential conservative online paper. Deputy head of the human rights movement "The World without Nazism” Valery Engel called Stephen Fry’s statement outrageous in a piece published by Vzglyad.
“A statement like that could be made by someone either uneducated, or simple-minded, or a provocateur,” Engel said. “Mr. Fry, as far as I can understand, is a Jew, and he should know what the Holocaust is. So far mankind has not gone through anything that could compare to the Holocaust.”
Engel doesn’t think the law discriminates against anyone and doubts Stephen Fry has read the law at all. “Propaganda of homosexuality means spreading information meant to form non-traditional sexual inclinations with underage youth. Whose rights are being violated here?” Engel said.
Another Vzglyad author, Ivan Tolobanov, commented on the boycott idea saying, “we don’t need you at all, it’s you who needs us.”
“You may skip these Olympics, but your athletes, your pharmaceutical corporations, your stands will tell you that you’ve got no brain at all,” Tolobanov said in his opinion piece. “Your voter, Comrade Obama, confused by health reform, Syria and everything else, won’t vote for you.”
In Tolobanov’s view, the 1980 Moscow Olympics went off well without some of the Western nations that refused to participate. “The U.S. can’t allow a boycott like that anymore. Let the U.S. do what they can – we’ll see and laugh,” Tolobanov said.