Dear Mr Fry,
For perhaps the first time in my life, I don’t wholeheartedly agree with your perspective. While your now-viral open letter to David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee was not addressed to me, a sports-mad Aussie school teacher, I still find myself compelled to respond in the hope that you will understand why the Sochi Games have the potential to be an extremely positive Olympic experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with your argument that Putin’s laws and his country’s responses to LGBT Russians are abhorrent and barbaric. However, I am not convinced that “an absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 is simply essential,” nor that holding the Games in Sochi will mean that Putin will “be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.”
One of the most incredible things about events like the Olympics and the World Cup is the opportunity they bring for people around the world to learn about the host country. Indeed, for some countries, it is the one moment when the world’s people and journalists are in their country with the time, space and opportunity to discuss the country’s history, culture, and current political and social climate.
During the past 2 months, 3.5 million people have watched “No, I’m not going to the World Cup,” by Brazilian YouTuber Carla Dauden:
The clip has been shared far and wide, including in a number of classrooms, and has led to a much broader discussion of Brazil’s political and social situation than I’ve ever been exposed to before. Had Brazil not been awarded the World Cup and Olympics, there is very little chance that those of us in Australia would be remotely aware of what’s happening in Brazil in 2013. One can only assume that the coverage of all things Brazil during the Cup and the Games will only continue to enhance our awareness.
Obviously, I am not advocating the idea of deliberately sending the Games to countries with barbaric laws or questionable social policies, but I certainly do think it’s important that we take advantage of the situation when it occurs. As June Thomas recently said on Slate, “Gay people are treated appallingly in countries all over the world, and the only homophobic hellhole that’s being editorialized against is the one where the five-ringed flag will wave next February.” Your commentary on Putin’s law is, in itself, an excellent example.
Thomas goes on to say that “the best way to protest Russia’s anti-gay legislation is to keep pointing out how heinous it is.” I couldn’t agree more.
All of the world’s people who want to “Celebrate Humanity” in the form of the Olympics should revel in the world’s journalists, bloggers, and social networkers spending the next 6 months writing pages and pages of criticism of Putin – far more coverage than his laws would receive if Russia was not hosting the Games. By the sharing of our hatred of the Russian Government’s despicable laws, Putin will be left to sit in his Palace and read about the world’s collective detest of him whenever he is online.
And perhaps more importantly, Russian LGBT people will be able to read it too. They will receive more support from all of us in this World Wide Web than they ever realised was possible.
Like you, I have had the honour of attending an inspirational Olympic Games in my own country. Like you, those Games were one of the most glorious moments in my life. We know that the Olympics bring joy, wonder, escape and beauty to the people, venues and cities in which they are held. At no stage during the Sydney Olympics did I believe that they belonged to our then Prime Minister John Howard, just as I’m certain that you didn’t regard London 2012 as belonging to David Cameron.
The Sochi Winter Olympics do not belong to Putin and his politics. Nor do they give Putin the approval of the civilised world. Rather, the Games belong to the Russian people. Especially those who don’t feel safe to express their sexuality.
Let’s allow these men and women two weeks of love, joy and wonder. And may those of us lucky enough to live in what we regard to be countries free from tyranny compose endless blogs, status updates, newspaper articles, YouTube videos, TV news reports, and open letters that express our undying support for their cause.
With sincere thanks for allowing me to discuss such an issue with you,
Edward P. Olsen