VANCOUVER – Activist and actor George Takei, best known as helmsman Lt. Sulu in the original Star Trek series, is boldly going where tens of thousands have gone before, denouncing Russia’s anti-gay laws, calling instead for the 2014 Games to move to Vancouver from Sochi.
He’s the latest celebrity to weigh in on the Olympic controversy, endorsing a petition at Change.org that had garnered more than 55,000 supporters by Wednesday afternoon.
Russia “intends to enforce its laws against visiting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) athletes, trainers and fans, meaning anyone even so much as waving a rainbow flag (and I presume many men enthusiastically watching and dramatically commenting on figure skating) would be arrested, held for weeks and then deported,” he wrote in a blog post posted Tuesday.
“Given this position, the (International Olympic Committee) must do the right thing, protect its athletes and the fans, and move the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Russia.”
Takei noted Vancouver’s facilities are still in good condition and the city would be the easiest of possible alternatives. Moving the Games, he said, would be much better than a boycott — one of the options touted by some activists.
“A boycott of the games would punish athletes who have trained for years to participate, and a boycott of Russian vodka isn’t going to affect the kind of change needed,” he wrote.
However, Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs said welcoming the Olympics back is not “like putting fresh sheets on the guest bed.”
“I can understand the intention, but practically I don’t see how it could happen,” he said Wednesday, noting Vancouver had seven years to plan the 2010 Games after they were awarded.
“I think lots of people in Vancouver would love to have the Games again, but it’s a question of who would pay for it and how it could possibly be done, and I don’t think we know the answer to either of those questions,” he said.
Meggs added Russia’s policies are reprehensible, and a real step back from the 2010 Games when Vancouver hosted the first “Pride House.”
Takei blogged that Russia’s ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and its imposition of heavy fines directly contravenes the IOC’s fundamental principals, and he argued such intolerance wouldn’t be accepted if it were aimed at Jews, Roman Catholics or Muslims.
Takei said moving the Games wouldn’t seem like an outlandish proposal if the discrimination was faced by those groups.
Both Meggs and Takei called for stronger leadership from the IOC.
But IOC spokesman Mark Adams said in an emailed statement the IOC has “received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that (anti-gay) legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”
Russia’s assurances to the IOC seemed to contradict a recent announcement by the country’s sports minister.
“An athlete of non-traditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi,” Vitaly Mutko said in an interview with R-Sport, the sports newswire of state news agency RIA Novosti. “But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”
Adams said the nascent nature of Russia’s legislation means it is too early to tell how it will be implemented, particularly with regard to the Games.
“As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media,” he said.
Thousands of Takei’s followers have weighed in on the proposal to move the Games to Vancouver.
“Don’t go to Russia and be beat by Putin, come to Canada to eat some poutine!” one poster, Kevin Dutrisac, wrote on Facebook.
Although most commentators seemed to be supportive, some questioned whether moving the Games would have the biggest impact.
“The best thing would be to expose the Russians’ outlandish laws by massive demonstrations. Entire national teams should march in and out of the ceremonies with rainbow pins,” wrote Thomas McGowan in the comments section of Takei’s blog post.
British actor and writer Stephen Fry also called Wednesday for the Olympics to be moved, writing a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron and IOC executives asking them not to give Russian President Vladimir Putin “the approval of the civilized world.”
“It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma,” he wrote in the letter, which he also posted online.
“Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realize that in fact, sport is cultural. It does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics.”