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8 Aug, 2013 21:40

Should the world boycott the Sochi Olympics in defense of gay rights?

British actor Steven Fry has sparked a fierce debate, asking the International Olympic Committee to move the upcoming Winter Games from Sochi to Vancouver. He even compared Russia’s treatment of homosexuals to Nazi Germany. Was he right?

The subject of Fry’s ire is a controversial law passed in June, which forbids the “promotion of non-traditional relations among minors.” The terms “non-traditional” and “promotion” are open to wide interpretation, with many gay activists in Russia calling the law a potential blanket ban on any manifestations. They also say that police have idly stood by as attacks on homosexuals multiplied on the back of the new legislation.

While the first Olympic boycott dates back to 1936, when over 20 countries withdrew in protest against Nazism, the phenomenon reached its peak in the 1970s and 80s – when four Olympic Games in a row had absentees. The 1980 Moscow Games and the 1984 Los Angeles Games saw rival Socialist and Western blocks withdraw en-masse.

In recent weeks, the International Olympic Committee has negotiated with Russia’s Olympic organizers, saying that it received “assurances” that the law would be suspended for the duration of the Games. Russian officials have produced conflicting statements in response, and the situation remains uncertain.

Closing ceremony for XXII Summer Olympic Games. Lenin Central Stadium (Luzhniki) (RIA Novosti)
But one thing is for sure – in the six months that remain before the opening ceremony, the conversation is likely to be dominated by politics rather than sports.

RT asked the opinion of several leading experts from across the political spectrum whether the tradition of political protests at sporting events should be revived in 2014.

Ben Harris Quinney, Chairman of conservative UK think tank The Bow Group:

When you approach international sporting events, you either do this in the acknowledgement that other countries have a different approach, or you don’t take part at all. Great Britain took part in 2008 in Beijing, and many question the human rights record there. And we will take part in the upcoming football World Cup in Qatar, and it is fair to say that Qataris have a very different view of what is appropriate in society.”

Nikolay Alekseev, prominent LGBT activist and lawyer:

“I am not for a boycott of the Olympic Games just because of one reason. It is not possible to technically realize this boycott – the Games cannot be moved. The only people who will suffer this boycott are the sportspeople.

We think that the best solution for all this is to go and protest during the Olympic Games, so that all the sportsmen can join in and wear rainbow pins and talk about the issues during the press conferences - so that the media reports about what is going on in Russia.”

Dmitry Babich, political analyst for Voice of Russia radio:

“I think fighting for gay rights is important. But I don’t think that fighting for gay rights is the same as a political campaign. The law has been in power for two months, and no one even thought to connect it with the Olympics Games. The authors did not have it in their mind when they wrote this law.”

Emmanuelle Moreau, head of media at the International Olympic Committee:

Boycotting Sochi 2014 would only serve to deprive the country’s athletes from fulfilling their dreams of competing [in the Olympics] - something they have dedicated a great portion of their lives to accomplish. History has shown that boycotts do not solve anything, but simply punish Olympic athletes.”

A petition promoted by Fry and gay Star Trek actor George Takei is calling to move the Games to Vancouver – the city which hosted them in 2010. The petition attracted 75,000 signatures in just a few hours.

What will happen next in the debate over the Sochi Olympic Games?

The jetman flies into the Olympic Coliseum at the start of the gala opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics, in Los Angeles, California, United States on July 28, 1984 (AFP Photo)

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.