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MORRISSEY: U.S. has duty to pressure Russia’s stance on gays as Olympics near



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Updated: September 10, 2013 6:33AM

Russia treats gay people like dirt. Actually, dirt gets
better treatment. If dirt could hold up a poster favoring dirt rights, it would be allowed to do so in Russia. But gays can’t
promote homosexuality in any fashion there under threat of fines.

Nor can they write letters to the editor about gay rights, get on a soapbox to equate gay and heterosexual relationships or hand out pamphlets about the LGBT community to young people. A new law prohibits ‘‘propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.’’ You don’t need a health-class lesson to know what ‘‘nontraditional’’ means.

That’s Russia, you say, worlds and decades away, and we have bigger things to worry about with a former superpower that’s starting to growl again. Well, no. First of all, nothing is worlds away anymore. We’re all connected, whether by the global economy, the fear of an isolated nation hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons or the mistreatment of fellow humans.

The Winter Olympics are less than six months away, and they will take place in Sochi, a temperate Russian city on the Black Sea. This is big deal for Russia, which knows the world is watching and would like everyone to know it is back in a big way.

The world indeed is watching, and that’s the problem. Watching is a very passive activity.

You can count on the International Olympic Committee to do absolutely nothing about Russia’s homophobic stance because nothing is what the IOC always does when faced with a situation that requires a moral compass and a backbone. If it didn’t do anything about human-rights flouter China in the run-up to the Beijing Games five years ago, it’s not going to do a thing about the plight of gays in Russia.

The IOC hides behind the ideal that it is a sports ambassador, not a political activist. But this isn’t politics; this is life. Beatings of homosexuals reportedly have increased since the law was passed two months ago. The IOC continues to watch from the sideline, quite possibly handing out points for good boxing form by the bullies.

So where does that leave the United States, which is supposed to be a light in a world too often darkened by intolerance? Not far from the IOC — at least to date. We didn’t do anything meaningful in 2008 to show our displeasure at the way China silenced dissidents. This week, President Barack Obama said he has ‘‘no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.’’

Let’s see how deep Obama’s impatience runs.

Olympic boycotts haven’t worked. The U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games and the Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games left athletes who were barred from competing bitter, and the protests didn’t lead to any meaningful change. But that doesn’t mean we should shrug our shoulders the way the IOC does and the way we did in 2008. This is an opportunity for the United States and like-minded countries to pursue strong sanctions against Russia if it doesn’t reverse course.

Put aside the diplomatic ramifications of angering Russian President Vladimir Putin. Are we a country that stands against discrimination, wherever and however we encounter it? If we are, then we shouldn’t care what the fallout is. It’s an approach we should have taken with Beijing, where repression reportedly is getting worse.

As actor Stephen Fry pointed out in a recent open letter to the IOC and British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russia’s law is eerily similar to Nazi Germany’s laws that isolated Jews before the 1936 Olympics, which legitimized Adolf Hitler internationally, at least for a while.

Russia’s law, which passed 436-0 (don’t they have a slaughter rule?), also applies to visitors to the country, including athletes competing in the Sochi Games. Foreigners could be jailed for up to two weeks, then deported. But the IOC says it has received assurances from the Russian government that the law will not affect spectators and athletes during the Games. But after the Olympics? Not our problem, the IOC seems to be saying. Gay? What’s a gay?

It would be nice to see some competitors display a social conscience during the Games, but it’s not up to them to make a stink. It’s up to countries such as the United States.

The Olympic charter calls for the IOC to help ‘‘place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace.’’ Clearly, the IOC doesn’t care about peace. Do we?

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