The calls for an Olympic boycott over Russia’s anti-gay laws are dead in the water (or in this case, on the ice).
They’re dead because those calls were always coming from people with little or no association with sports, echoed by LGBT activists and actors who don’t know a triple jump from a triple toe loop.
They’re dead because fair-minded people realize no Olympic boycott in the past has ever led to change. When Americans boycotted the 1980 Summer Games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, athletes like Greg Louganis were barred from competing; meanwhile, the Soviets stayed in Afghanistan for nine more years.
They’re dead because the people they hurt the most aren’t the Russian politicians who voted for the law, or even the Russian voters who elected these people. The people most hurt by a boycott are the American and Canadian and British 19-year-olds who have gay friends and family members, who have been working all their lives for this moment, and who are themselves gay.
I understand the frustration that gave birth to these calls for boycott. LGBT people have been marginalized by Western culture for decades, and in no corner of our society has that been more apparent than in sports. As kids we learn that the courts, fields and arenas of sports aren’t places for us, that gay men are less athletic and lesbians are butch softball freaks. These stereotypes are painful and translate into torment in the locker room that has driven countless LGBT youth from sports.
We have to do something. Russia cannot go unpunished in the sports world while these laws stand on the books. Yet with the calls for boycott dead, what do we do? Instead of walking away from sports competition, we have the opportunity to make a statement with these Sochi Olympic Games. We can beat the Russians at their own game.
We can pressure the International Olympic Committee to ensure athletes and fans of the opportunity to express their support for LGBT people in Sochi. We can pressure our own politicians in Washington, Ottawa and the United Nations to sanction the Russians over their punitive laws.
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And we can demand that Russia be banned from competing in its own Winter Games and all future Games until it complies with the Fundamental Principles of Olympism that say, as condition for national participation, “every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind.”
Without discrimination of any kind. Russia is in clear violation of the Olympic Charter. The question is no longer will we send our athletes to compete in Russia, but how will we shake hands with the Russians and beat them on their own ice? That is what sports are all about.
Cyd Zeigler is co-founder of SB Nation's Outsports.com, the world's leading LGBT sports publication. He is also a member of the LGBT Sports Coalition, a group of organizations poised to end anti-LGBT bias in sports by 2016. Follow him on Twitter @cydzeigler.