LGBT activists have called for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be moved from Sochi, Russia, or, alternatively, for Russia to be prohibited from competition. Although the anti-gay laws passed in Russia are reprehensible, is banning the country from hosting or participating the best answer?

The Nation’s Dave Zirin says no and gives three reasons why. The first is that such a restriction would primarily harm Russian athletes, who shouldn’t be blamed for “being born in a country abysmal on human rights.” Second, these demands are not coming from within the nation, and Russians should be afforded the right to stand up for their beliefs, as did the South African Non-Racialized Olympic Committee when it called for that country’s exclusion from the games in 1964. Last, the International Olympic Committee cannot be expected to “take a stand.”

As Zirin explains:

The IOC couldn’t “take a stand” with two crutches and hydraulic lift. It was a flawed body during the Cold War. Now it’s a corporate piranha masquerading as Nemo the Clown Fish, tearing countries to pieces under a miasma of soft-headed hooey about “bringing the world together through sports.” Asking the IOC to be an ally in the fight against oppression is like asking a scorpion not to sting. The mere fact that the Winter Games are in Putin’s Sochi—where the disappearance of $30 billion in Olympic construction costs has elicited barely a pip from the IOC—only shows who they are and where they stand.

… Having forces in the United States and the West—or in the case of the IOC, largely controlled by the United States and the West—telling Russia it can’t compete immediately raises a series of thorny questions. Russia’s anti-gay laws are abhorrent. You know what else is abhorrent? The drone and spying programs of the United States. Also our deeply racist system of mass incarceration, our treatment of women prisoners, our continued degradation of indigenous people, our record-setting immigrant deportation program or the fact that in twenty-nine states it’s still legal to fire people just because of their sexuality.

It’s true that America’s human rights scorecard is far from perfect, and, as Zirin correctly points out, “if the only countries allowed in the Olympics had sparkling records on human rights, we’d be watching polar bears race penguins on an ice drift in Antarctica.”

Perhaps a more effective response to Russia’s anti-gay legislation would be to attend the Olympics in Sochi and fight for LGBT rights, to organize resistance rather than look away from repression.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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