Athletes Are On the Losing End Of a 2014 Winter Olympics Boycott


British journalist and actor Stephen Fry wrote an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, the International Olympic Committee, and others calling for the boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort town of Sochi based on the Russian Duma's recent passing of anti-gay legislation.

The law imposes fines on individuals or groups that distribute information about homosexuality to persons under the age of 18; the fines range from a maximum of $150 for individuals, and $30,000 to organizations. Human rights groups in the West have expressed concern over the potential discrimination of gay athletes scheduled to partake in the upcoming Olympics. A spokeswoman for the British government stated that they "are working closely with the IOC and the British Olympic Association to ensure that the Games take place in the spirit of the Olympic Charter and are free from discrimination."

Those who favor a boycott say that it is based on human rights grounds and how the new law may put openly gay athletes in danger, especially as reports emerge of increasing violence against gay individuals perpetrated by Russian youths. Others, meanwhile, wish to boycott the Games on other grounds, namely, Russia's granting of asylum to Edward Snowden.

Caught up in the political mire are the athletes themselves. These individuals have been training their entire lives in a sport they love in order to compete in a competition they have always dreamed of partaking in. Politics and sports need to be kept at arms' length from one another for this reason. The actions of governments should have no bearing on a person's right to either partake or not partake in a sporting event when the individual athlete has nothing to do with the internal politics of a nation.

Were similar boycotts fair to the American athletes who were unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow? Or to the Soviet athletes and their Warsaw Pact counterparts who were forced to boycott the Olympics held in Los Angeles four years later? Boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics did not halt the Soviet Union's advance into Afghanistan, and a boycott based on the new laws against "gay propaganda" will only have the same effect.

Whole countries boycotting only does a disservice to those athletes who want to participate regardless of Russia's internal politics. If an athlete, gay or straight, wishes not to participate in next winter's Olympics then by all means they should be allowed to do so with zero fuss. The option to boycott should be solely placed on the individual athlete and their conscience.