Preaching to the Converted: A case for boycott in Russia

By : Ken Kundis
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KenKundisHeadshot_808353452In the mid 1970, apartheid in South Africa was a topic on everyone’s lips. The unfair parsing of opportunity and access for black South Africans was receiving global condemnation as activists like Stephen Biko and Nelson Mandela sacrificed their life (Biko) and freedom (Mandela) for the cause.

As a youngster grouping up in a tennis crazed household, apartheid came to my understanding through Arthur Ashe, himself an activist as well as a tennis player. Ashe worked diligently with the tennis establishment to eject South Africa from the 1970 Davis Cup – the men’s international team competition and the oldest ongoing team sporting event – due to their stance on race relations. The team was reinstated in 1973. However, when the team from India refused to travel to South Africa for the final, the South African team was barred again from the team competition. And so it stayed until apartheid ended in 1991.

It is difficult to say that the efforts of Ashe and the global sporting community brought about an end to apartheid. But that was less the point than the statement being made. That good people don’t turn a blind eye to injustice.

The horrifying stories of state-sanctioned violence, torture and murder toward gays and lesbians coming out of Putin’s Russia make apartheid look respectful in comparison. Putin willfully, intentionally has created an atmosphere of hatred toward gays and lesbians in his country for the purposes of propping up his own machismo. And now, as news comes that Russian lawmakers are thinking of stripping gay parents of their parental rights, it is clear just how far down the rabbit hole present-day Russia has fallen.

And yet POTUS and the governing board of the Olympic Games have made nothing more than toothless proclamations about ensuring the safety of the athletes at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014. Well of course they’ll be safe. Putin might be a crazy asshole, but he’s not stupid. To arrest or persecute athletes for being gay-positive while the world is watching would throw kerosene on a fire that is already burning out of control.

But that’s not the point. In the same way I wouldn’t accept a dinner invitation from Casey Anthony, I just don’t think it’s acceptable to be hosted by a government that not only discriminates against their own people, but advocates violence against them. Look, I get that Russian history is filled with tragedy. As Americans we are insulated from a lot of the vagaries of war and famine and ‘ethnic cleansing’ that happens around the world.

But turning a blind eye with nothing more than a finger-wag at this oppressive regime is not enough. I love sports and I love the Olympics but they don’t matter a whit if people aren’t free. The US team attending these games would be akin to throwing a party in a burning building and not pretending to smell the smoke or feel the flames.

I can’t help but wonder if Putin was creating laws and a hostile environment based on race, if the response from the world community would be this muted.

The Obama administration, the OOC, and any right thinking government should know better than to ‘respectfully disagree’ with laws that aren’t simply a difference of opinion. They are draconian, anti-human rights and teetering closer and closer to the Nazi idea of ‘purity.’

And that’s why the US Olympic Committee should boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

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