Should Canada boycott the Sochi Olympics over Russia’s anti-gay law?

Thomas Bink
Should Canada boycott the Sochi Olympics over Russia’s anti-gay law?

Gay-rights activists continue to call on Canada's politicians to take a stand on Russia's anti-gay law. Should Canada refuse to send athletes to the 2014 Olympics if the law isn't reversed?

Thomas Bink: No, we should go. If we went to China despite that country's pretty deplorable record on human rights, we should go to Russia. It's not big enough an issue to make a boycott statement. And besides, homosexuals can do more by attending – they can show the closed-minded Russian authorities that a person's sexuality has no impact on their performance or who they are as athletes and individuals. I look forward to some kind of statement reminiscent of the Mexico 1968 Black Power salute when the first gay athlete is awarded a medal in Sochi.

Matthew Coutts: The problem with that idea is that the gay-rights standoff has grown to a point where athletes are being told they will face consequences for even the smallest demonstration. Not just by the Russian government, but by the IOC. It will take someone brave to make such a statement. The athletes who did the Black Power salute were expelled from the Olympics. This time, they face the threat of law as well. And I don’t mean to necessarily compare the two instances. I’d expect a gay-rights demonstrator today to receive far more support at home than their counterparts received in 1968. But that’s not much solace when you’ve been thrown from Olympic Village and facing the Gulag. That all said, a boycott wouldn’t do much good. The best hope would be for those brave athletes to make a stand, even knowing the repercussions.

[ Olympic officials mush-mouthed over Russia's anti-gay propaganda law ]

Bink: Do you honestly think the Russian government would risk the international backlash that would come with arresting an athlete at the Olympic Games for being gay? Russia has been working on these Olympics for a decade as an opportunity to show the world that they are a global leader and are open for business. There's no way they would risk being perceived as an outdated oligarchy by the international community. No question it would take a brave athlete to make that statement … even if it's a matter of displaying a rainbow flag … but I'm pretty confident there are gay athletes more than willing to do it, even if it means being punished by the IOC and losing their medal. Like all worthwhile causes, the sacrifices are worth it.

Coutts: So, what? The government officials who are threatening to press the button are bluffing? Pandering to local supporters? (Alright, that I could see.) There is either a real threat of repercussions or a desire to make it appear there is a real threat. Either of those is dangerous. I think we both agree that an Olympic boycott is the wrong path. I think there is the likelihood that an athlete will take a stand, and their high profile will keep the government at bay. But fans and supporters who travel to Russia won’t have that shield. And if they defy the law, perhaps emboldened by that athlete’s demonstration, they won’t be as safe. It will take one police officer with an agenda to take matters into his or her own hands. And by the rule of Russian law, they’ll have every right to do it. So perhaps the athletes should go chase their Olympic dreams, but I sure won’t be joining the party.

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Bink: Given all the attention this issue is getting, I'm pretty sure any arrests made under anti-gay laws would create an international incident Russia would not want to be embroiled in. Despite their sabre-rattling, I'm confident Russian police will be told to stand down during the Games when the spotlight is brightest. After the Games, well, that's a different matter. Just as we saw China quickly revert back to its closed-door policies once the 2008 Games were done, I'm sure Russia will do the same. But at that point, Russia's anti-gay stance won't be a headline issue because there won't be an Olympic Games at stake.

Coutts: Yeah, fair point. That doesn’t really help the locals who oppose the anti-gay laws. But for the sake of our athletes and other Canadians who head to Sochi, I hope you’re right. But I won’t be among them, and the county is quickly dropping down my list of travel destinations.