Russia’s discrimination towards the gay and lesbian community has caused much uproar in the lead up to the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, which start February 7.  There have even been calls to boycott the games in light of the legal and social restrictions gays and lesbians face in Russia.  But I don’t think boycotting the games would be an appropriate or effective response.

Currently, Russia has no law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, something the United Nations has openly condemned.

Some thought that awarding a Russian city the honor of hosting the Olympics would soften the country’s stance on homosexual rights, but the international spotlight has not deterred Russian President Vladimir Putin— or the Russian people—from openly opposing the prospect of treating homosexuals like equals.

In June of 2013, the Russian government passed a law banning, “homosexual propaganda.”  The vagueness of the law can be used to prevent any form of demonstration that suggests that homosexuals are equal to heterosexuals.

AP Photo / Robert Bukaty: The Olympic rings greet everyone who enters The Sochi Olympic Park.

AP Photo / Robert Bukaty: The Olympic rings greet everyone who enters The Sochi Olympic Park.

The controversy this law inevitably stirred up led some, including German President Joachim Gauck, to push for mass boycotting of the Sochi games.  Fueling this movement was President Barack Obama’s decision not to attend.

People have speculated that President Obama’s decision is a symbolic protest, although he has repeatedly said it has nothing to do with human rights issues in Russia.

But the Olympics have never been a place for political demonstrations.  The games are all about the celebration of athleticism, sport and competition.  They put country against country and bring out nationalistic pride like no other event.

People have boycotted or demonstrated in Olympic games before, but the Olympics simply has nothing to do with politics. It is above politics.

It’s also important to consider just what good a protest would do for the gay and lesbian community in Russia.  Sure, it would send a message, but that message would quickly be forgotten once the games start and the excitement begins.

These athletes have been training their entire lives for this moment.  For some, this year’s games are the only ones that they will qualify for.  Is robbing them of a once-in -a-lifetime chance the best method for political protest?

After the games are over, the heat cools down on Russia’s human rights violations and nothing has changed, it will be hard to explain to those athletes that the boycott was worth it.

A much more effective message could be sent by winning an event and voicing your support for the gay and lesbian community while you have the attention of the world. That’s the way you get your voice heard and truly make a difference.

Because the truth is, a boycott will accomplish nothing. Much of the criticism over Russia’s anti-gay policies have been focused on Putin, and rightfully so.  He is the president and he passes legislation without challengers.

But the Russian people have made it clear they support their leader’s harsh stance on gay rights. The Russians historically have always been a very socially conservative society. In March of 2013, a Levada Public Opinion Poll reported that 85 percent of Russians were strongly opposed to a law that would legalize same-sex marriage, according to

That is an unbelievably overwhelming majority. When considering the poll data, Putin looks less like an intolerable maverick and more like a leader supporting the views of his country.

Boycotting the Sochi games won’t change any of that.  The gay and lesbian community know they have the international community on their side.  They will be better served with our supportive presence than with our absence.


Zach Winn can be contacted at

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