3 min

Why I’m saying nyet to Sochi Winter Games

Vancouver West End MLA says there’s no fun to be had when hate prospers

"While selling athleticism and soft drinks, the IOC has now effectively allowed Russia to sell its hateful and homophobic agenda. It’s wrong and can’t go unchallenged," says Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert. Credit: Josh Berson

Like you, I have been alarmed and angered by the many examples of hate and discrimination Russia’s gay and lesbian community is facing.  

Russia’s government has in one swipe of the legal pen “disappeared” gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and given the green light to violent hatred with no remedy. Gay spaces have been raided, young LGBT people have been baited and beaten, simple protests of holding a rainbow flag are resulting in beatings and arrest, community leaders have been jailed, and now, the Sochi mayor denies the very existence of people with diverse gender and sexual identities in his city; it’s a sad and shameful record.

But the Olympics march on, and we’re told by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the Olympic Charter, which requires an environment free of discrimination, means there’s nothing to worry about and much fun to be had. I’m saying nyet to Sochi and refusing to support this Olympics because there’s no fun to be had when hate prospers. 

When the IOC awarded the Winter Olympics to Russia, it demonstrated that the Games go to the highest bidder, regardless of human rights or the Olympic Charter. So while selling athleticism and soft drinks, the IOC has now effectively allowed Russia to sell its hateful and homophobic agenda. It’s wrong and can’t go unchallenged.

Would our governments and businesses still participate in an Olympics if open season for violence and hate were declared on any other group by a host government? What if we replaced Russia’s attack on LGBT people, and the IOC’s tacit support, with a government that said the Olympics could be hosted, but only if women were not allowed or another religious or cultural group was banned? We must not forget that Germany did just that while hosting the Olympics, shortly before the worst of the Holocaust was unleashed on Jewish, Roma and LGBT people.

I respect and applaud the City of Vancouver’s team, led by Councillor Tim Stevenson, who is working hard to bring these issues to an international audience. My refusal to participate or watch the Sochi Olympics is not a criticism of his noble mission to ensure Pride Houses (safe spaces for LGBT athletes and allies) are included in all future Olympics. It’s a good step, and I have written the IOC to demand the same thing. I also applaud our local businesses and community members who are putting pressure on Russia through symbolic boycotts and social media campaigns. Resistance to hate comes in many forms.

And finally, I send my best to our athletes who’ve worked for years to compete on Canada’s behalf but now have been forced into the horrible position of having to decide whether or not to compete in a country where their safety is challenged and where human rights aren’t respected.  

But in the end, I don’t believe the Games should ever have been awarded to a country that openly practises discrimination against its own people.

Long after the Olympic flame is extinguished, and for years to come, the people of Russia will likely have to endure continued harassment and discrimination sanctioned by their own government, a government that the IOC is supporting and promoting. I refuse to participate in an event that uplifts a government that encourages hatred, violence and oppression against its own people. You can tell the IOC what you think as well by clicking here.

Whether or not you agree with my refusal to support the Sochi Games because of human rights, we all can support groups fighting for human rights internationally, and locally, now. Local groups like the Rainbow Refugee Committee do it every day, by tirelessly working to help LGBT people from around the world escape persecution; nationally, Egale has provided a strong voice, and internationally All Out is working hard as well. 

While seeing and hearing the endless promotions for Russia’s Olympics in Sochi, I think of those brave gay, lesbian, bi, trans and questioning Russians who put their lives in peril by simply walking out their front door.

Because after all of the horrors of violence and discrimination, saying nyet to Sochi is one small step that I can take to support them and their struggle.

Spencer Chandra Herbert is the MLA for Vancouver West End.