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Commentary: Boycott the Olympics? Don't be stupid!
Published on August 16, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

Although patently misguided, anti-Snowden and pro-gay activists are calling for an international boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Remarkably, these strange bedfellows are intensifying their campaign despite President Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron both publicly pooh-poohing any such prospect just last week.

Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at
As it happened, I preempted Obama and Cameron by writing two commentaries, in which I distilled the problems inherent in this call and tried to help these activists refocus their outrage in more constructive ways.

Below are excerpts that I hope will help you form your opinion about a possible boycott, which, if not nipped in the bud, could become as inexorable as a giant snowball rolling down Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus.

• From “Boycott Olympics Over Snowden? Don’t Be Stupid!” The iPINIONS Journal, July 18, 2013:

The last thing either Putin or Obama wants is to even raise the specter of another tit-for-tat boycott of Olympic Games:

Putin – because this would render his showcase games utterly meaningless and relatively worthless without American participation, especially because the UK and other European countries would likely join in such a boycott; and Obama – because this would only further undermine his hope-and-change motto by crushing the hopes and aspirations of American athletes, and give credence to the Republican narrative about his presidency being little more than a retread of the failed, malaise-inducing presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Carter, you recall, triggered the first and only tit-for-tat boycotts in Olympic history when he ordered a US boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, ironically, to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Russians/Soviets retaliated, purely as a matter of geopolitical and ideological principle, with a boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Now, having said all that, there is one major x-factor, which has been bedeviling and vexing Western leaders for years:

Putin is trying to reclaim Russia’s (superpower) sphere of influence in the world by, among other things, warning Russia’s former satellite states against joining NATO (even though all of them -- led by Poland -- seem determined to defy him); trying to affect the make-up of East European governments (as he did, to no avail, in Georgia and Ukraine); and forming bilateral relationships with rogue states to counter America’s influence (like selling advanced military equipment to North Korea, Syria, Libya, Cuba and Venezuela). (“Putin, a Soul Mate Scorned,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 3, 2005)

In fact, I am all too mindful that Putin is on record lamenting the disintegration of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” -- notwithstanding two world wars, the Holocaust, or even Stalin’s purging of over 20 million of his fellow Russians. And it may be that he is so pathologically, maniacally and diabolically determined to put his humpty dumpty back together again that he would seize any opportunity to hinder, humble, or humiliate America – no matter how self-defeating – just to make it feel like a fait accompli.

So, despite his mind telling him to continue his efforts to “reset” US-Russia relations for 21st century cooperation, which would certainly include turning over Snowden just as the Obama Administration has turned over Russian fugitives, his heart might be longing too much for the halcyon days of 20th century Cold War.

But, if Putin’s (Cold War) heart prevails, American Olympians (who wish) could kill two birds with one stone by prominently displaying the gay-pride rainbow flag on their clothing whenever possible during the Games. This would enable them, on the one hand, to give Putin a retaliatory poke in the eye for granting Snowden asylum and, on the other, to express solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Russians who are being subjected to new anti-gay laws.

I especially urge athletes (from every country that supports gay civil rights) who take the medal podium during these Games to participate. They can do so by making a show of taking a small gay-pride flag out of their pocket, after the playing of the winner’s national anthem, and waving it proudly for the world (and Putin’s homophobic Russia) to see.

In other words, dare Czar Putin to have them all arrested for spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” And dare the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to sanction them all for violating its rule against “proactive political or political demonstration.” I assure you, as far as Olympics protests go, this will emulate the famous Black-power salute two Black-American athletes made during the Mexico Games in 1968 to protest racial discrimination in the United States.

Accordingly, I call upon gay activists in every country participating in these Winter Games to ensure that every athlete on their national team has one or more of these small flags to participate in this silent but poignant protest.

I appreciate of course that this won’t do for gay activists who are calling for an outright boycott, proselytizing fears that these laws might ensnare gay athletes from other countries too.

But such fears are patently unwarranted, and insisting on a boycott will do nothing but stigmatize LGBT people as the cause for jeopardizing the Olympic dreams of all athletes, LGBT ones too. Far better to let the IOC prevail upon Russia to repeal these anti-gay laws.

But if boycotting is a must, I’m all for a global boycott against Russian products like Stolichnaya vodka, which some gay activists are championing. Such targeted boycotts against corporate interests might also prove far more effective – just as they did in forcing revolutionary change in South Africa’s Apartheid (anti-black) laws.

• From “Boycott Olympics Over Anti-Gay Laws? Hmmm…,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 10, 2013:

This week, in an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, acclaimed renaissance man Stephen Fry added his voice to those calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia to protest that country’s new anti-gay laws.

In his inimitably dramatic fashion, Fry suggested that attending the Games in homophobic Russia today (given its mistreatment of gays) would be akin to attending the Games in Nazi Germany in 1936 (given its mistreatment of Jews).

Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] Russians…

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi is simply essential
. (London Guardian, August 7, 2013)

Fry’s analogy is fatally flawed of course; not least because no country boycotted the Berlin Summer Olympics. But you get his point.

By contrast, I’m already on record opposing an Olympic boycott over Russia granting NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum. And even though I am far more sympathetic to a boycott over its anti-gay laws, I oppose this one as well.

Because, instead of humbling Russia the way boycotts humbled South Africa, I fear this would only harden the heart of Russia’s wannabe Stalin, Vladimir Putin. Even worse, he might consider it a crossing-the-Rubicon provocation in the Cold War II he’s been fighting against the United States for almost two decades.

Related commentaries:
Boycott over Snowden
Boycott over anti-gay laws
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