A common man’s alternative to Stephen Fry’s open letter.
On August 7th, Stephen Fry wrote an eloquent open letter to the International Olympic Committee and British Prime Minister David Cameron, calling on them to ban Russia from hosting the 2014 Olympic Games in response to their “barbaric and fascist” (to use his words, mind you words that I wholly agree with) laws regarding homosexuality.
I support Mr. Fry’s call to action. I believe the IOC should step in and threaten removal of the Olympic Games if Russia does not change the stupid and prejudicial “gay propaganda” law. I believe they should act on their threat when Russia inevitably does not comply with that request. This would be an amazing step forward from an organization that seems to do their best to dodge and weave around the political issues of host countries (human rights in China anyone?).
But I have no faith. I don’t think the calls of Fry and others across the globe will be answered. I don’t expect the 2014 Olympic Games will take place anywhere other than Sochi, Russia. And I, excuse my pessimism, believe the dialogue about this atrocious law will die down as people become distracted by the bright lights and dancing of another opening ceremony and the triumphs of many deserving athletes.
So, what do we do?
I believe we should look to the past for inspiration (much like Russian lawmakers). I’m referring specifically to the 1968 Olympic Games held in Mexico City. At these games, a very public act of protest drew international eyes and minds away from sport, if only for a little while.
After winning gold and bronze respectively in the 200-metre race, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists during the entire American national anthem after receiving their medals, a symbol borrowed from the “Black Power” movement to call attention to black poverty and other struggles faced by African Americans. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman supported this act of protest and wore a human rights badge on his jacket along with his American counterparts.
Smith and Carlos competed in the games. They trained and toiled and it paid off. Then they used that stage to make a statement.
I thought about how a similar approach could be applied to the Russian Olympics, and this is what came to mind: I would like to see every country that does not support the propaganda law include a rainbow somewhere in their team uniforms.
I want the rainbow that has come to symbolize the homosexual community to become a symbol of the Sochi olympics, one burned into the brains of viewers more than any logo or mascot.
I want spectators to pass rainbow flags to their athletes in lieu of national flags during medal ceremonies. I want these athletes to speak openly in interviews about their thoughts on the law. I want the rainbow to embody Olympic victory in 2014.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know if this is logistically possible. I know that the IOC strictly regulates team uniforms, including colors. I understand that many teams had their uniforms planned and completed for years now.
I also understand that athletes may want to focus on the sport and competition they’ve trained their entire lives for, and not worry about being exposed to fines or worse. This is more than okay, and this idea should not be enforced on anyone.
But I imagine a beautiful scene of Russian law enforcement officials trying to arrest half of the athletes present during the opening ceremony parade because of the rainbows they are sporting. I imagine lawyers stepping in and defending their right to wear the colours that adorn the olympic rings. I imagine Russia’s handling of this situation being criticized world over. And I imagine the lasting image of a nation whose antiquated and prejudicial laws ruined their Olympic games motivating other nations with equally antiquated and prejudicial laws to rethink their hosting bids.
I may not have written this with the eloquence of Stephen Fry. I may have missed key information about Olympic regulations and Russian law. But I know that if an athlete stands atop a podium in Sochi and waves a rainbow flag, that image will be worth more than any medal to a lot of people world over.
Image by strangedejim on Flickr.
Posted originally on Medium here: https://medium.com/better-humans/6fa83d1dfb05