If you haven’t been living under a rock lately, you’ll know all about the anti-gay laws recently passed in Russia. And in the past week you’ll have heard about the campaign urging a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics that are due to take place in the country.
Much less talked about, however, has been the XIV World Athletics Championships, being held in Russia as we speak.
The Championships are dubbed the third greatest sporting event, after the Olympics and the football World Cup. Saturday’s opening ceremony, marking the event’s first time in Russia, saw speeches from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the President of the International Olympic Committee, and the president of world athletics’ IAAF governing body. This took place amid controversy following newly adopted Russian laws regarding homosexuality and the banning of promoting it to children.
LGBT activists and human rights groups, including political and public figures, have been calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next year. They have spoken out about their fears for athletes’ safety in Russia, as well as the idea that other nations’ participation in The Games, amounted to passively promoting the country’s recent decisions and not showing enough support to fight it.
Yet I have not seen one letter, outcry or protest circulating worldwide against the holding of the Championships this week.
To me it seems that everyone is keen to jump on the big bandwagon along with everyone else’s protests against the Winter Olympics. Reading the open letter to the Prime Minister from Stephen Fry – calling the law ‘fascist’ and comparing Russia to Nazi Germany – was enough to provoke a lot of Facebook and Twitter comments from people acknowledging their disgust.
For example, 800m champion Nick Symmonds spoke out in his blog, criticizing Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, which outlaws the promotion of homosexuality:
These laws, which do not expressly prohibit being homosexual, criminalise 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.
But I’m sat here thinking, what about today? What about what is happening in Russia right now, this week in fact? Hundreds of athletes from around the world are currently competing for a championship title, in the very place that we are all allegedly focusing on. I’m all for thinking big, but at the end of the day, every little helps. Surely starting with any small event still makes a statement? And could act as a stepping stone, as well as an example, that we will not tolerate discrimination against individuals in any country?
1,974 athletes – a record number for the event – from 206 participating countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe applied to compete, with 17 different national broadcasting stations capturing the whole event. From the Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt to Olympic champion Elena Isinbayeva, athletes are competing for a title – based on the reassurance that sports and politics are separate entities.
Russia made the bid to hold the Championships back in 2006, contending against Spain and Australia, back when no one saw the new legislation coming. In response to the letter from Stephen Fry, Prime Minister David Cameron expressed that he shared Stephen’s “deep concern about the abuse of gay people in Russia”, yet ruled out the idea of a boycott of the Olympics.
LGBT rights associations in Russia have expressed that neither a boycott of the Winter Olympics nor of the World Athletic Championships would be of any benefit, adding that the people who would suffer from a boycott would be the participating sportspeople.
Campaigners for gay rights in Russia also doubt a boycott would do any good.
Most have suggested that a stronger option would be waiting to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics, and protesting while that event is going on.
There are approximately 80 countries in the world which consider homosexuality illegal, including Qatar, where the 2022 Football World Cup will be held. Why wait until 2014 to speak out against this? Why not reprimand our world leaders now?
American President Barack Obama has said he has
no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgender people in ways that intimidate them…
Our countries’ leaders should reflect the views of their citizens – legislation and history is not made by people sitting back and ‘going with the flow’, but by individuals being brave enough to fight for what they believe in.
When it comes to sport, I believe that no judgement should be made on an individual themselves or their sexual orientation; but on their performance. Shouldn’t we be making sure now, in the present, that any future Games or world events will be held in cities that don’t discriminate against any people in any way?
This is not just about sports, nor is it about homosexuality – I believe this is about speaking out for what we believe in and standing up for the people in the world that are not in a position of freedom to do so for themselves.