The Sochi Olympics in Russia has attracted enough attention to detract from the Games. Russia’s track record of human rights violations and the 2013 controversy of enacting a slew of anti-gay laws have been deemed incompatible with the Olympic ideals. There is also criticism against the Putin government for using the Olympics to elevate the prestige of its regime. This was the reason President Vladimir V. Putin “personally lobbied the International Olympic Committee and Russia offered to spend $12 billion on preparations, twice as much as the nearest competitor.” Others meanwhile believe that a boycott of the Games is nothing new – throughout history, athletes have been used as pawns in a political war. These critics claim that the real sacrifice is that of the athletes careers at the pedestal of Lost Causes. They cite the example of the Moscow Olympics, as well as the Soviets’ boycott of the Los Angeles Games which eventually achieved minimal effect in driving change.
What is your perspective? Have sporting platforms been hijacked? What would your response be to those who advocate the boycott of the Sochi Olympics and why?
NY Times Room for Debate this this on here
Here is one view: Human rights violations in Russia are incompatible with Olympic values. But I am against a boycott.
First, boycotts are an indiscriminate sanction that punishes hundreds of millions of innocent people. Second, there are other, more targeted and more effective, actions. Third, given the censorship in Russia, participating in the Olympics may be more effective in spreading Olympic values than boycotting the Games.
Boycotting hurts not only the human rights offenders but also viewers in Russia and around the world. Moreover, boycotts are grossly unfair toward a whole generation of athletes who have been training for these Games for many years. In most sports, the athletes’ careers are quite short; they cannot maintain the same peak of physical form for a decade. Hence, every Olympics matters.
To avoid these trade-offs, the International Olympic Committee should not allow countries that routinely violate Olympic values host the Games. Of course, these host-country decisions are made long in advance. In 2006, when Sochi was one of three finalists in the bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia was very different. Although not a champion of democracy, the 2006 Russia was still a much more open country.
But more important, a boycott isn’t the only option. Last year, the United States Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which targeted Russian officials involved in blatant offenses of human rights and rule of law violations. Their assets in the U.S. were frozen and their U.S. visas were revoked. Supporters of that act are encouraging other O.E.C.D. counties to follow the U.S. example. There is already a discussion in the U.S. and Europe about similar sanctions against Ukrainian officials involved in violence against protesters in Kiev. These actions are much more effective and involve no collateral damage.
Last, government censorship in Russia aimed at misinforming the public should not be taken lightly. Last week, Dmitry Peskov, President Vladmir Putin’s press secretary, said that criticism of the Sochi Olympics is the result of a Western bias and jealousy toward a “strong, successful, rich and healthy” Russia. The most effective way to overcome this propaganda is for athletes and fans to come and talk to Russians. This communication is what repressive governments fear most. As proof, in 1980, when the U.S. and West Germany did not attend the Games, I was a kid living in Kiev, where several Olympic soccer games were held. Schools strongly recommended that parents send their children out of town that summer — so that our fragile faith in communism would not be exposed to conversations with real foreigners.
I believe that human rights in Russia must be secured by Russians themselves. And to convince them to reject discrimination and embrace universal human values, it makes sense to communicate to them face-to-face, bypassing official propaganda channels.