Sochi Olympics: A Few Thoughts before You Boycott

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Russia has come under massive amounts of scrutiny as of late regarding its legislation towards and treatment of the LGBT community. Disturbing reports and even more horrific videos have come out of Russia, bringing to light the atrocious human rights violations happening overseas. While the new legislation in Russia may not have been intended to explicitly make being gay illegal, the results speak for themselves. A law that was meant to eliminate and make illegal the promotion of gay propaganda in the presence of minors – still insanely problematic for a variety of reasons – has served as a catalyst to an even greater issue: how the law is being enacted. People are literally being beaten and tortured for being gay. It’s an atrocity that would have gotten media attention regardless, but has been of particular interest because of the upcoming Olympic Games. This year’s winter Olympics are being held in Sochi, Russia causing many to call for a boycott of the Games. With the Winter Olympics underway, conversation about this is more crucial than ever. It is important to know where you stand, but it is even more important to be able to articulate why.


I’ll admit, my first reactions to hearing about the horrible things happening in Russia were the same –  boycott! How could I not? How could I, a member of the LGBT community, not stand up for the rights of my brothers and sisters abroad? An important thing to know about me before we continue is I am an over-thinker. A simple comment can, and sometimes does, send me into a tailspin of reading into intention, secret meanings, and questioning the meaning of life. It was no surprise to me, as it should now be no surprise to you, that I kept coming back to this issue. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I went over it again and again in my head – was boycotting the right thing to do? That question led to 5 others just like it. I was concerned that my knee jerk reaction may have not been the best one, and thus, I needed to overthink. I needed to figure this out.


Whether I have really figured it out is up for debate, but I will not be boycotting the Olympics. I am not here to convince you to do the same. Truth is, I don’t know if I am right or wrong. I am just as confused on the best course of action as the rest of you. I will, however, offer you the thoughts that led me to my decision as something to consider.


I think what is happening in Russia is inexcusable. The rest of the world and their respective governments have a responsibility to help stop these horrific deaths and human rights violations. That said, I am having difficulty deciding where the responsibility to do something, in terms of the Olympics, falls. I think NBC, as an American TV station, would be a tad out of its jurisdiction trying to take action against Russia. What voice do they have in Russian law? I’ve heard people comment that NBC should not be airing the Olympics at all. I don’t know enough about the details about how all of this works to say for sure, but by not airing the Olympics I’d have to imagine they aren't really taking any action against Russia. Unless Russia is directly benefitting financially from NBC’s viewership, what good does it do? Sure it makes a point about where they stand as a company, which has some value, but it doesn’t really solve the problem. Like I said, if Russia is not benefitting directly from viewership, what pressure would this put on them to change their laws? If anything, it only hurts the athletes who have trained and sacrificed for this moment.


I can also appreciate the tough spot the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is in. This news story really blew up in the second half of 2013; from a logistics perspective alone taking any action is an absolute nightmare. Moving the Olympics somewhere else is probably not realistic, so the option you are left with is cancellation. Sure, that does hit Russia pretty hard from an economic standpoint, and it sends a clear message. It also negatively affects a lot of innocent bystanders. Not the least of which are the athletes and their families. Just because you don’t support the war, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t support the troops.

I think the hardest part of this whole thing is deciding who the enemy is. I mean obviously it's Russia. Russia = total douchebag.  That said, where does that leave us? Who gets vilified? Who are we/should we be boycotting?


I’ve heard lots of people talk about the responsibility of the sponsors. From what I have read there seems to be a quiet consensus that boycotting sponsors is the best course of action. Again, that leads to questions of why? Let’s remember that the purpose of a boycott is to hold accountable those responsible and cause them to suffer consequences of their actions. Boycotting sponsors of NBC or the IOC does not accomplish that. Neither one of these entities enacted these laws in the first place. So if the purpose of this boycott is to cause harm or send a message to the people responsible, this course of action is not effective. I think you can support/watch the Olympics without supporting Russia. Even as I type that the other part of my brain is screaming SUPPORTING THE OLYMPICS IS SUPPORTING RUSSIA. Hence why I am having such a hard time with this.

I’m conflicted. There is no easy answer or swift course of action that will solve the problem. I love the Olympics and will watch them. As I do, I will be proud of my President who has made his stance known and, along with other world leaders, will not be attending the opening ceremonies. As I watch I will take note of how NBC handles the dialogue they said they would start about what is taking place in Russia. I will watch because I want to be part of the dialogue, I want to have a place in the conversation. In this day and age, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of satisfaction with yourself that because you change your brand of soda this month or “like” a page of Facebook that you are an activist doing any sort of real good. Don’t fall into this trap. If you are not using this moment as a catalyst to create conversation, to spark education, and/or to research resources that fight injustices like these on the international level, then Russian law is not the only problem we face. Watch the Olympics or don’t watch. Boycott or don’t boycott. The decision is yours, but whatever the decision may be, please make it an educated one.



Read Related Posts...