Don’t ignore the Sochi Winter Olympics

Watching and protesting will do more than boycotting

Jay Serrano, Opinions editor

Not watching the Olympics to protest Russia’s inhumane homophobic laws may sound like a noble idea, but the protest is not going to work. It’s going to hurt the wrong people and, most importantly, there are better ways to make a difference.

Boycotting the Sochi Olympics won’t change Putin’s mind about Russia’s discriminatory laws. There will not be a magic moment when the Kremlin has a change of heart and accepts all people regardless of sexual orientation.

We know this because Olympic boycotts have been done before. They don’t work, and can send the wrong message.

Failure to boycott future olympics could be seen as an acceptance of human rights violations.

In 1980, the United States athletes and fans boycotted the Moscow Olympics in protest of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The boycott didn’t stop the invasion.

Instead, it engendered so much ill will that the Russians and their allies boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles in response.

Neither boycott led to substantive or even moderate changes. The reason is viewers pay very little attention to the host country or its politics. They are too busy paying attention to the games and the athletes. A political boycott would go unnoticed.

For many of the athletes, this will be their only chance to compete in the Olympic games. It would be a shame if these athletes, many of whom support equal treatment for all people, were punished for something they had no control over.

“Athletes enjoy freedom of speech, so if in a press conference they wanted to make a political statement, they are absolutely free to do so,” International Olympics Committee President Thomas Bach said in an interview with Reuters.

This means the athletes will be provided an opportunity to speak out in support of equal rights and against Russia’s offensive laws, in Russia. People will notice this form of protest.

It will be a rare and powerful opportunity to speak out.

If you want to make a difference, there are activist groups working for equal rights.

Several lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups are organizing the Principle 6 Campaign which supports equal treatment for all athletes at the Olympics. Currently, Principle 6 is selling clothes branded with their message. All profits are donated to groups campaigning for equal rights for LGBT people in Russia.

Another way to use the Winter Olympics to fight for equality is by watching them and cheering for all of the athletes, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.

The best way to fight intolerance is to stand up and say, “I believe in equal rights for all people. I don’t support your view, and here’s how I am going to prove it.”

Ignoring the Sochi Olympics is burying your head in the sand. You can claim you are not supporting Russia’s laws, but you’re not doing anything to fix the problem, either.

So stand up, speak out. Take advantage of this opportunity.