Boycotts don’t work, they just don’t. Not on their own, anyways. You want to make a statement - that you do not support the kind of subhuman practices that the host country practices - and that is commendable, really it is. What needs to sink in, frankly, is you can’t make a statement by practicing a strict regimen of targeted apathy. You need to do more.
You don’t like a brand of coffee that pays slave wages to migrant workers? Spend your money on brands that don’t, buy fair trade. You don’t want to fund an oil goliath that laughs all the way to the bank as marine life trudges through petrol sludge? Invest in an alternative energy lifestyle, or even just use the gas station slightly further down the street. Your actions are what prompt reaction. Inaction only prompts your own personal satisfaction, and boy ain’t that worth a whole lot to the rest of us.
So why is it that when Russia’s gay-ablative attitude mars the greatest of games, the most vocal among us call for the masses to bury their head in the sand and wait for it to be over? I’m not proposing we turn the other cheek and let the Sochian scandals simmer in the back of our minds, but there is more that can be done. Done by you, me, and the rest of the tens of thousands of people lumped into “Boycott Sochi 2014” Facebook groups.
Call someone who is involved. Inform people in your circles who are uninformed. Educate yourself on every side of the issue, so you can take the steps towards actually making a difference, even if the difference is minute in the grand scale of things. It is called activism for a reason.
The Olympics will carry on regardless of whether you boycott them or not, as hard as you may find that to believe. As much as it is a venue for the toughest and more talented among us to strut their stuff, it also has the unintended effect of shining a ever-scrutinous light on the country it is held, and history has proven that as soon as the light is gone, people forget.
People forgot about the Greek controversy surrounding Athens’ impossible infrastructure costs and the people who were left in the 2004 games’ wake. People forgot about the human rights’ violations that made Beijing a hot topic only six years ago.
You know what you can do? You can remember. Remember that these problems are still problems long after the games are over, and keep shouting to anyone who will listen until the problems are fixed. People who are disadvantaged overseas do not magically get their rights back when we go back to our daily lives. Remember who they are.
And if you can’t do any of those things, then please stop giving a damn, because it reflects poorly on those who do.
When the Olympic Rings are lit over Sochi on Friday, they are going to be missing a few colours.
A friend told me that while this may be the case, and while it is nonsense to have to argue for the defense of LGBTQ issues in places such as Canada, Russia was different.
“It’s a distinctive culture”, she told me as the Bachelor was screeching in the background. “And we have to respect that. You don’t” - Do you accept this rose – “Look at a culture through your own lens.” – Yes. Of course. I’ve always wanted this – “If not, then we have the choice to turn off the tube.” A commercial about a burger roars on.
Though I did not say anything at the time – a man can only give out a rose some thirty odd times in the show, so everyone is especially special – this perception of sanctity for sanctity’s sake is inherently false.
Forget all the piffle about leaving politics out of the Games. The Olympics are not some depraved politically neutral organization, though they may be presented as such. They are a charged statement with political clout, the true emblem of praising equality in all its fronts. Anyone of any race, religion, and gender is praised for their ability to engage and succeed in a particular sport. We celebrate their achievement, as much as we commemorate our coming together to witness the feat.
Sport is inherently political because it brings out in us what politics so often forgets in its divide – the idea that all have individual skills, all can enhance their talents, and all can take part in the collective celebration of an athlete’s hard work.
In fact, the Olympic Charter says, "The practice of sport is a human right. 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."
Despite what my friend said then, it’s not enough to boycott Sochi. To do so would be a failure to understand this mutual interdependence between sports and politics. Worse yet is that such an omission is a subtle form of commission. While indirect, it says, “We allow some places to be intolerant by pretending these are not places at all. They are too different, too unlike our own.”
But this is wrong. What of the gays, lesbians, and bisexuals currently living in Russia? What of those who have already undertaken the onslaught of torture and human rights injustices? What of those who will undergo it in the future?
By boycotting, one is arguing that their struggles are their own in a culture that isn’t ours. It is not intentional; instead it is being just being plain bothered, and hoping that being plain bothered is enough.
Unfortunately it isn’t, and what needs to occur is a challenge to the Games themselves. One must watch the events, note the athletes, and cry for a higher standard of ethical treatment by supporting LGBTQ activist organizations, emailing one's respective MPs, tweeting, writing, sharing, and participating in any medium where their voice can call out for a better world.
No one can be silent. In Russia, far too many are being silenced as it is.
So, do not boycott these games. Instead, disrupt. Contend. Call out that we can be better if we want to be.
And remember that as the snow melts and the sun shines in just the right way, a rainbow or two will form in the prism. It’s just the natural law of physics at work. All it takes is time and the right conditions, conditions we ourselves can help make.