Why are we leaving it to athletes to stand up to Putin?

Hockey stars speaking out against Russia’s anti-gay laws show greater moral fibre than the IOC


(Travis Golby/NHLI via Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby disagrees with Russia’s anti-gay laws. So does Dan Boyle. Steve Stamkos is “a little uneasy with what’s going on over there.” But hey, he says, we’re still five months from the lighting of the cauldron in Sochi: “I think things can change.”

Let’s hope that’s not as näive as it sounds.

While Russia’s Olympic organizers probably aren’t aghast at the mild comments of Canadian hockey players, surely they foresee the inevitable. At some point during the Games, athletes and/or fans will exercise some form of protest against Russia’s notorious anti-gay laws—be it handwritten signs held aloft on the podium; forests of rainbow flags in a crowd; or full-on Pride marches through the Olympic Park.

Then what? Jail the perps?

Expel them?

Well, that’s what the law allows, so you can see why even vocal western athletes and sporting officials are treading lightly, framing the issue in “right to play” rhetoric, as if openly gay athletes might be barred from competing in Sochi just because they’re gay. In fact, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has obtained a written assurance from Moscow that those attending the Games—athletes, officials, media, fans—won’t face legal sanction based solely on sexual orientation.

So let’s be clear: this is not about the right to play. It’s about the right to speak one’s conscience, and the right to do so without being treated under the law as some sort of proponent of child sexual abuse. And since the IOC itself bans athletes from using the Games as a platform for political statements, there’s only so far the competitors can push that cause down the line.

Beyond that point, it falls to those brave souls living outside the wire of the Olympic playground who are willing to make a stink over this antediluvian legislation and suffer the fallout. With any luck, they’re already planning to steal the gaze of the international media (the presence of 12,000 journalists is an opportunity not to be missed), and with still more luck, the big media are alive to their plans.

So maybe Stamkos is right. My guess is that the prospect of gay right demonstrations consuming the Games—in effect, stealing their legacy—has become a source of profound worry to Sochi organizers, who as stewards of the Olympic sites could spend much of the two weeks stamping out pop-up protests. Maybe they see that Moscow’s vague assurances of “equal treatment” for visiting gays and lesbians won’t cut it. Maybe they get that Russia still has time to not only to “clarify” the law, but to repeal it and tell the world that it was all a misunderstanding. Maybe they can get that message through to Vladimir Putin.

You’d hope so, because the task of defending basic human rights—principles the IOC should insist upon for a country to even bid on the Games—should not fall to athletes. Props to those who, like Boyle and Crosby, have gone beyond the right-to-play bromides and voiced outright disapproval of the legislation.

If there’s any justice left in Russia, their work is now done.


Why are we leaving it to athletes to stand up to Putin?

  1. Maybe we should send the athletes but have all the fans stay home and watch it on TV. If the stands are empty, Russia loses lots of cash… and lots of face.

  2. ” task of defending basic human rights—principles the IOC should insist upon for a country to even bid on the Games”

    I have to say I completely disagree with Russia stance on LGBT, however the problem is a large portion of the world shares their view. Maybe this can be polarizing issue that can bring these people out of the dark-ages into the present.

  3. hoping for an Olympics to be destroyed for politics is sad! Just destroy the whole athletic component to launch a huge political rally and destroy all the athletes dreams! It’s amazing this hoping for an Olympics to be destroyed and all sports disrupted and overturned was not mentioned even once when they were in China! How did Russia become so much worse than China that articles about destroying the athletic component of an Olympics are all over!! Why not just boycott and launch a new Olympics in a country where everything up to gay marriage is allowed!

  4. Is there any body to clear the matter for me. You are crying for gays that they won’t be allowed to bare their ass while shouting on the streets of Suchi. But nobody cares about unemployment rate in this country. What is wrong with you people

    • What is wrong with you? It is not an either/or you know.

      To say no one cares about unemployment is an out and out lie, and you know it. Your comment is full of hate, and people who are full of hate are not going to be very persuasive – especially when they lie.

    • 1) Nobody is fighting for the right to bare their ass, you disingenuous twit.

      2) It’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. Combating unemployment and supporting human rights are both doable simultaneously, you disingenuous twit.

  5. Because IOC members agree with Putin?

  6. Russia does not have anti-gay laws. It has anti-child harassment laws that Canada would do well to follow.

    • BS and you know it. Getting arrested for holding my partners hand while walking down the street does zilch to protect children. Putin is that you?

      • what I get from this law is he is not saying you cant hold your partners hand…..he is saying please have the respect to not do it infront of kids (he thinks it confuses them) and if you dont then there will be a punishment for the actions (obviously holding hands is not what he meant but he has to be strict to send the message)…..I have nothing against someone being gay just stop pushing it into everybodys face………..a good example is pride parade, I have seen more half naked people(and a few naked) jumping down the street fornicating infront of kids….im sorry but a little respect I think is all he is asking for….

        • Actually it’s no sort of child protection law. It’s a law to allow them to jail “suspected gays” without cause. Put more simply, it’s an “If I want you in jail for any reason I just have to declare I think you’re gay and that gives me an excuse”
          While the LGBT movement is the target of this law it’s actually a law designed to take away ALL people’s rights…it’s a law that Canada should have nothing to do with!

  7. Russia deserves applause. Standing up against the downward spiral of the west is a courageous act. Legalization of destructive self-inflicted behaviour is the hallmark of societies that are rotting from the inside out. Look at Rome!

    • What is self-inflicted destructive behaviour? Please enlighten us…

  8. If past abuse of human rights was a criteria for a boycott. The Olympic games should have been boycotted in every country including Canada

    • Past? This is present day…

    • Wow for once I agree with you, the olympics should be scrapped as the criminal enterprise it clearly is. There is a reason why recent hosts have more than a whiff of the jackboot about them.

  9. Anyone who participates in any olympics sport is supporting criminal activity on a massive scale as well as repressive and oppressive behaviour on a par with the worst tyranny.

    I’m just wondering how many athletes are going to compete knowing that they are supporting homophobia? In my mind this makes them the equivalent of all those visiting athletes in the Berlin games who stood before Hitler and raised their arms in salute knowing full well the recent history of persecution in that country. The only difference being that nowadays athletes have a lot more freedom to do what they want and also have a greater access to information about persecution than those 1936 athletes.

    So I disagree Gillis, the only ones who can stop this and embarrass Putin are the athletes, the rest of us have no platform and no voice. If they fail to stand up to Russian bigotry and attend the games, then they support that bigotry. As an Australian General recently said, “The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.”


    So athletes what standards are you willing to ignore just to get a chnce to compete?

  10. Just my opinion…
    Boycott attending the 2014 Russian Olympics.

    Boycott watching the 2014 Russian Olympics.
    Boycott the 2014 SPONSORS of the 2014 Russian Olympics.

  11. You’d hope so, because the task of defending basic human rights—principles the IOC should insist upon for a country to even bid on the Games…
    Explain how that bastion of basic human rights – China – was allowed to host the games? Russia’s laws pale in comparison.

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