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shut 'em down

tilda swinton, breaking the law
so apparently, the international olympic committee might have been "mistaken" when it said that gay-friendly athletes had nothing to fear from coming to the winter games scheduled to take place in sochi, russia. another way of putting that would be to say that they just said whatever they thought would calm people the hell down and didn't bother to check with russian authorities because they knew they weren't going to like the answers.

there are increasingly loud calls for the united states to boycott the russian olympics out of the sochi olympics as russia has introduced draconian new laws that force homosexuals back into the closet. it's a political ploy, of course, as democratically-elected-president-for-life-and-all-eternity vladimir putin sees his conservative base shrinking and growing disenchanted with his leadership. by choosing to attack a group already marginalised in russian culture. it's a cynical strategy with a proven record. karl rove used it against the same group in the united states to get george w. bush elected in 2004.

if it comes down to it, i hope that the u.s., who have taken such strides to redress inequality for the lgbt community before the law, does boycott the sochi olympics. i hope that canada does as well, but i can't pretend that we have the same stature in the world. the real impact will be if the united states, united kingdom, australia, france and germany call a boycott. well, getting china on board would be a colossal victory for equal rights as well, but i can't really see that happening (i can hope).

and i hope that the various petitions circulating to pressure the event's key sponsors to pull out is successful. honestly, the core list reads like a who's who in hell of corporate devils (mcdonald's, coca-cola, proctor & gamble, visa, samsung and panasonic), so i doubt that there's much that can be done to persuade any of them. but there are others, including volkswagen, who i think could be turned and it really only takes one big name before others start feeling embarrassed and back off. so consider signing a petition on the subject. that said, remember that these guys were fine with sponsoring the olympics in china in 2008, so human rights may not be a big concern.

the thing is, whether countries decide to boycott or sponsors pull out, that hurts the olympic athletes as much as it hurts russia. for many, this would be their only chance to participate and, even though it would be the right thing to do, that's a harsh blow for people who have sacrificed a lot for their sport. [it also potentially deprives them of future income, since becoming an olympic champion is one of the only ways that athletes in many of the winter olympic sports can make a public name for themselves.]

which is why, before people start boycotting or sponsors, the internal olympic committee needs to step in and do the right thing: the olympics need to be moved to another location, immediately. that's easier said than done, because the planning and budget that it takes to host the olympics is considerable and we're less than a year away. but the only way that the games can be redeemed is by scrapping plans and starting over. it won't be easy, but it will be better for all concerned.

in terms of the options open to the committee, there aren't a lot, but there are some:

- revisit past success. there are a number of recent host cities- vancouver-whistler, salt lake city, lillehammer, nagano- that have facilities to accommodate most of the sports. there is time to build on those.

- delay the games. in order to allow extra time for preparation, the games could be put off until late [november/ december] 2014, or a full year to 2015.

- consider training. athletes need to train somewhere, right? so maybe it's time to look at a place that has training facilities that can be upgraded to meet olympic needs. of course this might also mean...

- consider more than one. major soccer/ football tournaments don't take place in one city. sometimes, they don't even take place in one country. in order to get everything ready, it may be advisable to follow their lead. central europe, scandinavia and the northwest united states [possibly including western canada] may not have a single location that can host all the events, but there may be enough facilities between them to allow for a cooperative olympics. that would obviously be a huge change, but it's a formula that's worked for other large-scale sporting events and it doesn't involve tacitly supporting a government that ignores even the most vicious hate crimes against the lgbt community.

actor and writer stephen fry has written a poignant open letter to prime minister david cameron on the subject.

actor and internet sensation george takei has floated the idea of bringing the games back to vancouver for a repeat performance.

but before any of that can happen, the international olympic committee must, for once, exercise its considerable authority and tell the truth: that there is no honour in a games tainted by a climate of hatred and that every victory under such circumstances will forever be soured.

the very first line describing the role of the committee in the olympic charter reads:

To encourage and support the promotion of ethics in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned

it's clear that russia is no partner to the i.o.c. in the promotion of ethics and education when it comes to lgbt people and the banning of violence against them. it's time to move. 

the photo of tilda swinton at the kremlin was originally posted on her twitter feed with the comment "in solidarity. from russia with love." you can read about it and others who are using their celebrity to advance the lgbt cause here.

note :: for those of you who want to join the protest by saying no to russian vodka, but maybe can't fork over the cash for a bottle of grey goose, may i suggest that you enjoy a nice glass or cocktail of canadian-made iceberg vodka?

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