Open Phones: Russian Olympics Protest

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Russia's anti-gay laws have sparked protest around the world (including at the recent track and field championships) and calls that the US should boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics in that country. But many athletes -- even those who actively support gay rights -- say that it's not fair to deny them their dream of competing in the Olympics at the expense of making a political point. What do you think? What role do Olympic athletes have when it comes to this issue? Call 212-433-9692 or comment below.

These laws, which do not expressly prohibit being homosexual, criminalize public discussion of homosexuality, especially with foreigners. As an American, I believe in freedom of speech and equality for all, and therefore disagree with the laws that Russia has put in place. Given that I am currently residing in London, I will say, once again, that our LGBT neighbors deserve all the same rights as the rest of us. However, as an American who is about to reside in Moscow for 12 days, this will be the last time I will mention this subject.

I say this not out of fear of prosecution by the Russian government, but out of respect for the fact that I will be a guest in the host nation. Just as I would not accept a dinner invite to a friend's house and then lecture them on how to raise their kids, neither will I lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people.

This idea does go one step deeper, though. I am going to Russia to represent my country on the track. This civilized battlefield is where the best athletes in the world come together to metaphorically destroy each other. In the battle of the men's 800 meters, there are no weapons, no generals, no politicians involved, and actually very little contact at all. What you will find are 50 men who all want to become the next world champion, and who will figuratively and literally bleed to do so.

I will say now what I said before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, when people asked me how I felt competing in a foreign country with questionable human rights standards: The playing field is not a place for politics. In a world rife with never-ending political battles, let the playing field be where we set aside our differences and compete for national pride and the love of sport.

-- Two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds on his decision to compete in Russia. Read the full piece at Runner's World.

Comments [18]
Maybe playing against the best will remind them of their place in the world?

Aug. 20 2013 12:49 PM

In thinking about Russia's draconian anti-gay law and creating your assessment, I suggest you substitute the words
'Jew' and 'Jewish' for homosexual. If a nation can enact laws that apply to one class of individuals what is there to prevent that nation from enacting laws that single out other classes of individuals? I think the world is inviting disaster by not doing everything possible to stop this type of legislation regardless of the country of origin.

Aug. 20 2013 12:13 PM
Sally from Bushwick

It should go without saying that Russia's anti-gay policies are repugnant and indefensible, but it's not the first Olympic host country with repressive laws. Athletes are athletes not game pieces.

Aug. 20 2013 12:07 PM
ivan obregon from nyc

Konservatives want to boycott the Olymics in Russia over whistleblower Edwin Snowden while gay-rights advocates want to do so over Putin's homophobic legislation....

Nonsense. Americans will make a bigger statement in person by showing up and expressing their views after the gold, whatever our views, as individuals and as an example of true....freedom ( assuming our conformist athletic-rules mindset will allow our athletes to be people there the way they're often not allowed to speak for themselves as individuals here). The alternative is just....impish cowardice and an example of taking your ball home because you think you lost......

Aug. 20 2013 12:05 PM

As inspiring as the Jesse Owens story from the 1936 games is, it had absolutely no impact on what followed. It's just a nice thing for us to refer back to after inconceivable devastation.

I think a boycott penalizes athletes for something that isn't their fault, but this idea that Russia will be more hurt by possible demonstrations at the Olympics compared to the international prestige and revenues generated from the games is a bit silly to me.

Aug. 20 2013 11:59 AM
RJ from prospect hts.

The Olympics were also initially designed as a "peace" demonstration, a way of bringing the world together. Violating people's human rights are not demonstrations of peace.

A rainbow-colored banner should be created with some language on it--either simply PRIDE or GAY RIGHTS that all US participants, at minimum, should wear. Extras can be made for any other participants who want to join.

Aug. 20 2013 11:58 AM
EleniNYC from Jackson Heights

Politics should NOT does NOT ever enter into the conversation of the Olympics. When the Olympics first started in 74BC the Greeks STOPPED and oulawed ALL wars and politicking during an Olympiad.

Fast forward to 1936 Berlin: Hitler tried to show-off his "Arayan State" and Jesse Owns completely shattered and destroyed that dellusion!!

Aug. 20 2013 11:57 AM

Why do we let the same athletes who claim that it's a statement of peace and togetherness get away with saying it's just a competition and beliefs and unacceptable policies shouldn't be a topic?

Aug. 20 2013 11:56 AM
Tony from Canarsie

Re the 1936 Berlin Olympics analogy: what comes to the mind of the average American when they think of that event?

Two word answer: Jesse Owens.

Aug. 20 2013 11:55 AM

Russia is a failed state leave them be.

Aug. 20 2013 11:55 AM
Ed from NYC

Wow. Brian compares Russian gay policies to Nazism. Nothing like some right-wing hyperbolic tactic there. Typical of him to do this when it comes to any liberal cause.

Aug. 20 2013 11:52 AM

I don't think an athlete can meaningfully protest except to personally boycott. Anything short of that just would feel deflated.

Aug. 20 2013 11:52 AM

Kudos to the caller for not getting drawn into the Hitler scenario

Aug. 20 2013 11:51 AM
PJ from NJ

BL says there is "worldwide protests" I missed these protests in China, Africa, indiA, South America, Europe, Caribbean.
There was a lot of backlash against UEFA held the under 21 soccer tournament in Israel. Never heard about it on WNYC.

Aug. 20 2013 11:50 AM
Sheldon from brooklyn

I don't believe in mixing politics and sport.

It's not fair to athletes, who've trained all their lives, to deprive them of a once in a life time opportunity.

However, if the Russian government were overtly doing the same to Jews or Blacks, would we still send an Olympic team? It's a tough call.

Aug. 20 2013 11:50 AM

I think someone has to be willfully blind to most of what goes on during the Olympics to think it's a time to come together in peace. Maybe there was a small amount of meaning in this when the Olympics still contained artistic and literary categories.

Aug. 20 2013 11:45 AM

We should not boycott the Olympics, let the athletes compete. But if a few raised a rainbow-gloved fist, I'd cheer.

Aug. 20 2013 11:45 AM
Brenda from New York City

It is an odd choice for a President to make during an Olympic (hosting) year. But it is a great galvanizer for a movement already in full swing. Calling for a protest is a fabulous way to draw international attention to this civil rights issue. Actually boycotting is a different issue however.

Aug. 20 2013 11:02 AM

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