Why I’m Boycotting the Sochi Olympics
There was seldom a moment during the London Olympics that I was tuned away from live broadcasts, especially during handball. I was one of the two-thirds of Canadians who watched Sidney Crosby end the Vancouver Olympics with an overtime goal to win the men’s hockey gold medal.
This time, I won’t be watching. I don’t care if Patrick Chan sets another world record in figure skating or Canada plays Russia for the gold medal in a game that goes to overtime. I won’t be watching my Winter X-Games favourites, slopestyle and halfpipe, or the curlers from my hometown battle for gold.
While the Olympics are supposed to be about coming together, the spirit of unity, and a celebration of sport and national pride, none of that is on display in Sochi. The Russian government, Sochi Olympic organizing committee and the International Olympic Committee have created an Olympic games that does none of that and I want no part of these Olympics.
I don’t think I should have to explain all the reasons why I’m boycotting the Olympics because the reasons to boycott these Olympics have been well documented. However, I should probably go over them just the same.
In 2013, Russia enacted new laws that all but outlawed homosexuality in the country. The law, which passed by a 436-0 vote in Russian parliament, bans the spreading of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” That not only includes any material about gay rights but it bans suggesting that straight relationships are equal to homosexual relationships. Ostensibly, this is law prevents targeting people “promoting” homosexuality to minors but the law is so vaguely written that the law is not being applied solely that way.
Since that law has been enacted, there has been a noted increase in hate crimes against homosexuals. Whether there’s a direct connection between the law and the increase in hate crimes is something that we can only really speculate on because correlation isn’t the same as causation. However, the law basically sanctions homophobia in Russia so it’s not much of a leap for a homophobic Russian to see the law as endorsing crimes against homosexuals.
This doesn’t even cover other homophobic laws on the books. Russia has banned adoption by gay couples or by anyone in countries with marriage equality laws on the books. There is a law that allows for the arrest and two-week imprisonment of “any visitor to the country suspected of being gay or sharing this information with others.” Who knows what they’ll do to You Can Play Project board member Brian Burke when he arrives with the US men’s hockey team since YCP is a group advocating for acceptance of LGBT athletes in sport.
While Russia might be claiming to be protecting minors or society, I guess, with these laws, what these homophobic Russian laws are doing are making these people illegal by their very existence. How the IOC can stand idly by and let Russia marginalize homosexuals is beyond me. Their charter mentions such things as ethical principles and the preservation of human dignity but don’t back it up when a host nation bestowed with the privilege of hosting the Olympics violates those very tenets of the Olympic Charter.
Maybe I’m just too naive but I can’t understand why people insist on not treating others equally. Do people just feel threatened by homosexuality? Is it the George Carlin thing where people are afraid of the homosexual inside so they repress it by attacking the homosexuals around them? I don’t understand homophobia and the state institutionalized homophobia is just one reason to avoid watching these Olympics.
Meanwhile, in the village of Sochi itself, it’s not homosexuals who are in the most danger from the local populace but stray dogs. Well, I call them stray dogs but media members in Sochi say that these dog aren’t malnourished or unkempt as you would see in typical strays. In fact, they’re all well-behaved dogs. It would seem that the so-called stray dogs of Sochi are, in fact, the former pets of the citizens of Sochi who were abandoned when they were forced to move to make room for the Olympics.
However, these dogs are not subject to treatment that strays would be in Canada. Rather than being taken to a shelter, the Russian government has hired a pest control firm to kill the dogs and remove them from the town.
This isn’t really for the safety of anyone at the Olympics. As I said, media members say these dogs are friendly and well-behaved as any household pet would be. Alexei Sorokin, the director of the hired pest control company, Basya Services, seems to be treating the removal of strays as a matter of national pride. After the opening ceremony rehearsal, he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “A dog ran into the Fisht Stadium, we took it away. God forbid something like this happens at the actual opening ceremony. This will be a disgrace for the whole country.”
Sorokin also referred to the strays as “biological trash.” There’s an irony to Sorokin using that term when you consider how he and his company are treating these dogs.
Basya hasn’t been humane about removing the dogs. They have been using poison darts and poisoned meat in order to kill the dogs. An eyewitness report (and accompanying online video) said that the poison dart caused a hit dog to slowly suffocate. From being shot with the dart to the dog’s death took 90 minutes.
Just like the homophobia in Russia at moment, the IOC is also turning a blind eye to the treatment of stray dogs (and cats) in Sochi. The IOC released a completely false statement saying:
According to the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, all stray dogs that are found on the Olympic Park are collected by a professional veterinary contractor for the well-being of the people on the Park and the animals themselves. The dogs are being handled by professional veterinary staff, who carry out a full health examination off-site and look to locate the relevant owner. All healthy animals are released following their health check.
While that may actually be what the Sochi organizing committee is saying, the fact that no one at the IOC is willing to so much as read a newspaper to find out what is actually happening is deplorable. But that’s not happening. The Sochi organizing committee is hiring contractors to kill stray dogs. Killing stray dogs with poison darts that leave the dogs to suffer what seems to be a slow and agonizing death.
Fortunately, some Russian citizens are doing their part to save the dogs. A local dentist has set up a makeshift animal rescue operation, PovoDog (a play on povodok, the Russian word for leash), to save dogs from Basya. Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska is funding a second effort called Volnoe Delo which roughly translates to “good will.” Other Russian citizens are taking any dogs they can away from Sochi and away from the pest control people. One such person drove 1,000 miles from Moscow, loaded his car with strays, rescued them and told a reporter for The Moscow Times that he was planning to do it again before the opening ceremonies.
Being a dog owner myself, the treatment of dogs in such an inhumane manner hit really close to home. The treatment of gays in Russia angers me. The treatment of dogs in Russia is just heartbreaking. I like to think that I’m not easily moved to tears but I broke down hearing about what’s happening to these dogs. I can’t support an Olympics that almost advocates for the subhuman treatment of anyone, not homosexuals and not dogs. No one deserves this.
While it’s certainly not anywhere near as big an issue as the previous two, the ridiculous mismanagement of funds by the Sochi organizing committee is either corruption or incompetence of astounding magnitude.
While all parties involved and those with interests in the success of the games deny any mismanagement or corruption, it’s hard to see where $50 billion was spent considering that only the sports venues have actually been completed. It’s not just the Russian government defending spending but I heard the Russian media defend spending on the BBC World Service and CNBC posted an article defending spending. However, the story that the media covering the games is telling is that construction on non-athletic venues is not complete.
We’ve all seen the pictures of the brown water, warnings about low-functionality plumbing and the ironic double toilet stalls in the men’s rooms. These are all effectively behind the scenes things that won’t be on TV or in the media once the games begin. Sochi put their money on display so they would look good. All that other stuff, like plumbing, shower curtains, pillows and doorknobs, is just ancillary and not important enough to spend money on.
Sure, we can believe the talking point about effectively rebuilding a resort town to accommodate an international event the scale of the Olympics but that ignores what was done to achieve that. People were displaced to accommodate venues. Pets were abandoned by those people forced to move by the Russian government. Regardless of where the $50 billion dollars was actually spent, it was done to make Vladimir Putin look good to the world rather than being spent on the people of the nation he claims to lead.
And while I realize that many of these athletes dedicate their lives to making the Olympics and that their life’s dream is to wear the national colours on the world stage, we shouldn’t just blindly support such a vile Olympics. I’m all for supporting these athletes and if there’s someone you want to watch or cheer for, go right ahead. That’s why I don’t advocate for the Cold War era boycotts that just punish the athletes whose lives are rendered effectively meaningless because of political posturing.
What amazes me is that the IOC is, for all intents and purposes, effectively complicit in the human and animal rights abuses perpetrated by the Sochi organizing committee and the Russian government. The IOC’s own Olympic charter says, “Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
However, IOC President Thomas Bach has previously called attention to Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter which reads, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted.” And former IOC Vice-President and former World Anti-Doping Agency boss Dick Pound suggested that national Olympic committees tell their athletes, “If you screw around with this, we’ll send you home.” These have nothing to do with the Olympic spirit or being against discrimination. At this point, the IOC is trying to escape without being horribly embarrassed by what is happening in Russia.
I don’t expect you to take this as a call to arms and join me in boycotting the Sochi Olympics because you agree with me. Just keep this in mind. Consider not watching these Olympics. Consider not watching an event that is promoting and supporting a regime that doesn’t actually believe in tenets of the official charter of the event it’s hosting.
This is why I’m boycotting the Sochi Olympics.
The Guardian – Russian anti-gay law prompts rise in homophobic violence
The Guardian – Russia passes law banning gay ‘propaganda’
International Olympic Committee – The Olympic Charter
The Nation – The LGBT Movement Takes Aim at Sochi
New York Times – Racing to Save the Stray Dogs of Sochi
NPR: On The Road – Statement from the International Olympic Committee on the stray dogs of Sochi
Olbermann – The Killing of Stray Dogs in Sochi
Olbermann – The Sochi Stray Dog Nightmare Continues
Salon – Sochi is rounding up and killing dogs, aka “biological trash,” ahead of Olympic games