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Boycott, ban, or bounce: Advocates weigh options for Sochi 2014

The 2014 Olympic Games are a flash-point for LGBT advocacy groups concerned with new anti-homosexual legislation adopted in the host country, Russia.
The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images
The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

The 2014 Olympic Games are a flash-point for LGBT advocacy groups concerned with new anti-homosexual legislation adopted in the host country, Russia.

President Obama opposed a boycott of the games during his Friday press conference, saying, “We’ve got a bunch of Americans that are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed,” and that “nobody’s more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and -lesbian legislation that we’ve been seeing in Russia.”

On Friday, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge said that he wants more details on recent legislation banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”

Speaking in Moscow, Rogge told reporters that “when the law was [enacted], we have received oral reassurances emanating from [Russian Deputy Prime Minister] Mr. Dmitry Kozak, who is in charge of the organization of the [Olympic] games in Sochi," and that, "we asked for a written confirmation of these reassurances. We've received it yesterday. We've studied it this morning. But there are still uncertainties and we have decided to ask for more clarification as of today. So we are waiting for this clarification before having a final judgment on these reassurances," Radio Free Europe reports.

The comments contrast with an IOC statement published last month stating, “The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

Russia's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko addressed the law on Thursday, saying, "As for that law, it is not aimed at restricting the rights of citizens, irrespective of their nationality, faith, or any other inclinations. This law is aimed at banning propaganda for minors. No one is going to infringe on anyone's rights." A June survey by Russian Public Opinion Research Center found that 88% of Russians support the ban on gay propaganda.

Sen. Lindsey Graham made waves by comparing the Sochi 2014 Games to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The push to boycott the Olympics has lost momentum, but the comparisons between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler have continued. On Wednesday British Comedian Stephen Fry published an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron and the Games’ organizers on his website (that has since been taken down) stating that “[Putin] is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews,” and that “‘an absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential.”

Several groups and individuals are proposing a relocation of the games. On The Last Word actor and LGBT activist George Takei said that “the IOC must do the right thing” and “move the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Russia.” An online petition to return the games to Vancouver, their most recent host city, has over 140,000 signatures; another petition hosted by the LGBT activist group All Out received over 350,000 signatures urging the IOC to speak out against the Russian anti-gay laws; it was delivered to IOC headquarters in Switzerland on Wednesday.

Openly gay two-time U.S. Olympic figure skater and self-described "Russophile" Johnny Weir told the BBC that he will not boycott the Olympics. In a separate interview, Weir told ABC, "If it takes me getting arrested for people to pay attention, and for people to lobby against this law, then I'm willing to take it." He said: "Like anyone, I'm scared to be arrested. But I'm also not afraid of being arrested."

In an op-ed for msnbc, Cyd Zeigler proposed banning Russian athletes from their own games, making “Russia, as host, watch the games from the sidelines as 200 other nations slide across the ice in Sochi.” There is a recent precedent of the IOC  succeeding  in bending national policy through the threat of sanction. In 2012 Saudi Arabia sent two female athletes to the London games despite fierce opposition from Saudi religious figures who objected to the women competing in front of a mixed-gender crowd.

The Sochi Winter Olympics will take place from February 7 – 23 2014 and will be broadcast exclusively by NBC.