On whether or not to boycott the Sochi Olympics

At the intersection of sports, politics and human rights

Adam Goldenberg argues that a boycott of the Olympics is in order given the treatment of gays and lesbians in Russia. Of all Adam’s points—full disclosure: I edited the piece—I think I found this sentence the most interesting (or at least provocative).

If the Russian government were passing legislation that discriminated against Jews, Canada would have announced a boycott of the 2014 Olympics already.

Here, conversely, is Patrick Burke’s case for not boycotting.

There does not now seem political support for a boycott. Here is a statement sent this way from John Baird’s press secretary.

The promotion and protection of human rights is a hallmark of Canada’s foreign policy. This latest development in Russia is extremely troubling and Canada has raised its concerns directly with Russian authorities. Canada follows the human rights situation in Russia closely and the promotion of Canadian values has and will continue to feature prominently in our ongoing dialogue. The decision whether or not to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics would rest with the Canadian Olympic Committee.

NDP MP and foreign affairs critics Paul Dewar has raised the idea of Canadian athletes waving the rainbow flag in Russia and here, via email, is the opinion of Liberal MP and amateur sport critic Ted Hsu.

At an event like the Olympics, I think we should be promoting Canada’s identity as a country. Part of that identity is that we believe in equality, respect for diversity and inclusion. We thus abhor the recent laws passed in Russia. But I think that Canadian athletes should participate in the Sochi Olympics, while letting everybody there know that our Canada proudly includes LGBT athletes. The openly LGBT athletes should, with their country’s support, show that they are not afraid, go for the medals and so be part of the Canadian team that will make us all proud.

And while the government defers to the COC, the COC seems resolutely anti-boycott.

Playing sports is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Since London 2012, the COC has been involved in more than 100 events, with approximately 800 Olympians. This year, for the first time ever, we added Pride festivals to our long list of community involvement. Our aim is to showcase athletes in ways highlighting Canada’s values and pride. We believe in the power of sport uniting individuals of all races, genders and sexual orientation. We oppose discrimination of any kind. Our main focus is the preparation and performance of Canada’s athletes at the 2014 Games. The IOC has stated it continues to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media and it has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games. Mark Tewkesbury said it best that a boycott would only penalise the athletes who have been training for years preparing for their Olympic dream.

Update 5:08pm. Just off the phone with Mr. Dewar.

I think it makes sense to speak out strongly, that’s the first thing, Conservatives haven’t done that, and secondly to, if anything, leave it to athletes to also be involved and state their feelings … If you look at the tradition of the past of the Olympics, there have been boycotts certainly, but there’s also been people who have made strong political statements during Olympics games. And I could see that being an opportunity for people to state their concerns.