George Takei, or who Star Trek fans might fondly refer to as Lieutenant Sulu, wants the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games moved to Vancouver. This comes after Vancity Buzz’s first report on Monday about a Change.org petition that called for the relocation of the Games to the previous Winter Games host city.
On Monday, the “Sochi: Winter Of Hate” petition had a total of just under 6,000 signatures and at the time of this article’s publication it has now achieved nearly 55,000.
Takei, who is openly gay, is among the long list of celebrities and high profile individuals to call out on Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” crackdown. Violence against LGBTQ individuals has soared and has been perpetuated by Russian police and even homophobic public bystanders during pro-gay protests.
Anti-gay harassment even goes as far as kidnapping gay teenagers and publicly beating and outing them on YouTube. Russian homophobia runs wide in the nation with polls reportedly indicating that 90 percent of the population supports the anti-gay laws.
According to another older poll from April 2012, 86 percent of Russians supported a ban on “gay propaganda.” While youth are traditionally known to be much more liberal and supportive of LGBTQ rights, the same poll also indicated that 83 percent of those between the ages of 18 to 24 supported the ban – a figure that is just slightly lower than the 89 percent in support from those 60-years of age or older.
Some have also accused Russian Vladamir Putin of riling up Russia’s traditionally anti-gay hatred to divert attention from domestic issues and rising public dissatisfaction over his governance. The anti-gay laws came into effect in June 2013 after many months of falling approval ratings.
Acclaimed and openly gay British broadcaster Stephen Fry also supports the relocation of the Sochi Games, taking to his own blog to voice his pleas for British Prime Minister David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to take immediate action. He also likened Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, which has been associated with beatings, arrests, fines and jail time for public displays of homosexuality, to how Jews were treated in Nazi Germany.
Speaking on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno last night, U.S. President Barrack Obama also spoke out against Russia’s new policies. “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” he said.
While the idea of relocating the Sochi 2014 Games to Vancouver comes with good intentions, with just 6 months to go until the Games are scheduled to begin it is simply not possible.
In fact, there would be a much better chance of the February 2014 Games being canceled before it is relocated. While the possibility of a boycott by participating countries exists, that possibility remains as extremely remote and would only punish the athletes that have trained so hard for many years to compete in the Games.
August 6, 2013, by George Takei
It’s been bubbling for some time, but the controversy over Russia’s draconian “gay propaganda” law has now boiled over. Last week, Russia’s Sports Minister confirmed that the country intends to enforce its laws against visiting LGBT 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.Given this position, the IOC must do the right thing, protect its athletes and the fans, and move the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Russia.
The International Olympic Committee’s fundamental principles include an unequivocal statement: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” In specific response to the Russian law, the IOC, in a recent interview, doubled down: “[We] would like to reiterate our long commitment to not discriminate against those taking part in the Olympic Games. The IOC is an open organization and athletes of all orientations will be welcome at the Games.” It appears Russia isn’t listening, and indeed now has raised the stakes by threatening arrests.
There have been urgent calls for boycotts of the Olympics and of Russian exports like vodka. These are understandable: It just doesn’t seem right to see any of our dollars flowing to that nation. But 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 effect the kind of change needed. Besides, with Russia’s confirmation that it will enforce its law, our LGBT athletes are in real danger, and their safety must be paramount.
Many believe that such a call to move the Olympics out of Russia goes too far. Would this be their opinion if the law instead called for the arrest of any Jews, Roman Catholics or Muslims should they display any sign of their religion, such as a wearing a yamaka or praying while facing Mecca? Discrimination in any form is a blight upon the Winter Games, and it must not be tolerated.
NBC and the corporate sponsors of the Olympics should be paying close attention, too, and should get behind the “Move the Olympics” movement now, while there is still time to do so. If the Winter Olympics proceed in Sochi, Russia, all of the goodwill they have spent millions to build will evaporate in noisy protests, boycotts, and terrible publicity. I personally will be beating this particular drum loudly, as will many other LGBT actors, activists and allies. Trust me, if you are a corporate brand, you do not want to be associated with the Sochi Olympics.
Nations are not judged merely on their might, but also by how they treat their most vulnerable. Russia’s cynical and deplorable actions against the LGBT community have given license to hate groups within its borders to act with violence and impunity against a group, based solely on whom they were born to love. It now seeks to spread that hate abroad through its tainted Olympics. If Russia hopes to stand with the International Community, it must accept and adopt international principles of equality and non-discrimination.
There is a petition gathering strength demanding the Olympics be relocated to Vancouver, which played host in 2010. All of the facilities are still in good condition, so this would likely be the easiest of possible alternatives. If you agree, and I hope you do, please take a few moments to sign the petition here. With enough support, maybe the IOC and the sponsors will realize that this is a disaster in the making, and the best course is to move immediately and decisively to relocate the Winter Games of 2014.
– GEORGE TAKEI
Featured Image: NPR