POSTED: August 14th 2013

NEIL WILSON: A rainbow alliance would turn the Russians red

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Stephen Fry was right to pen his letter to the International Olympic Committee about sexual discrimination in the 2014 Olympic host nation. He got the world talking, the last thing the IOC and Russia wanted.

What exposed Fry’s naivety on sporting matters was his call for an “absolute ban” on the Winter Games in Sochi, or its switch, as he put it, to “Utah, Lillehammer (sic), anywhere you like.”

Neither is possible for the IOC to implement, even if it so desired. To cancel the Games, breeching contracts with the Russians, global sponsors and television networks, would likely bankrupt the IOC and ruin the international sports federations. To switch them now would be logistically impossible.

Montreal’s mayor, asked by the Canadian prime minister whether his city, hosts of the previous Games, could deputise for Moscow in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan dismissed it as impractical with eight months notice.  As I write, there are less than six.

The only time, in 1976, a switch has been made of a Winter Games Innsbruck had slightly more than three years warning that it was replacing Denver.  Three years, when Innsbruck already had the infrastructure of the1964 Games, was just about doable.

Some flocking to Fry’s cause call for a boycott. Another naivety. Boycotts of Olympic Games have been tried on three occasions at least, and all failed to achieve their goal.
In 1976 the Africans boycotted MontreaL to protest a New Zealand rugby union tour of South Africa, an international pariah because of its government’s racial policies. The only sufferers were their athletes. The rest of the sporting world partied without them.

Again, in 1980, athletes were kept away from the Games by their political masters, this time to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The athletes missed out, the Soviets stayed in Afghanistan.

And in 1984, when the Soviets and their allied countries retaliated by boycotting Los Angeles’ Games,  the event was a huge success.  Who remembers now that Seb Coe did not beat the best Russian and East German athletes of the day?

So forget taking the Games away from Sochi. Forget boycotting its Games. Get real. Do something that will embarrass the Russians and make its home television audience aware what the world thinks of their country’s discriminatory laws.

How?  Simple. The athletes themselves who participate must make the gesture by emulating the greatest Olympic protest of all time, the black gloved salute of Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the winners’ rostrum at the 1968 Games.

That brought the contemporary racist attitudes within the United States into sharp relief to the rest of the world, and has never been forgotten within the Olympic movement.

All three medallists – New Zealander Peter Norman was the third – wore the badges of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. This time all medallists should consider wearing on their tracksuits a ribbon in the rainbow colours of LGBT.

What could the IOC do to prevent it? To ban athletes from making the gesture would be to side with the Russians and offend its own Charter banning discrimination. They would not dare.

The sporting world should not turn its back on Russia’s Olympic Games. They should use it for a boomerang effect. 

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Sochi 2014 · LGBT ·

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