POSTED: December 18th 2013

NEIL WILSON: The t-shirt that will send a message

The Sochi Games will open in 50 days / Sochi 2014
The Sochi Games will open in 50 days / Sochi 2014

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

(SFC) Barack Obama, president of the United States, will not attend the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Nor will Joachim Gauck, the president of Germany, or Francois Hollande, president of France.

All are making a statement about Russia’s human rights record and its recent introduction of a law banning the propagation of homosexuality in the country, or at least that is how it will be seen.

Of one thing we can be certain:  the effect on the Winter Olympic Games, Russia and the IOC will have all the weight of a snowflake.

Boycotts do not work, whether they are national or personal, and history has proved that so again and again.

Those who suffer are those who boycott. IOC members have long memories. Paris can kiss goodbye to its hope of winning the rights to host the summer Games of 2024 when they vote in 2017. So can any US city which bids.

Obama gained Chicago no votes by turning up when they bid. His city went out in the first round. Now he has ensured that Chicago’s successor, whichever that is, has lost before it runs.

To make their point effectively Obama, Holland and Gauck could have turned up wearing a pink button-hole or a rainbow scarf. That would said so much more to the millions watching than the presence of the junior functionaries they have nominated to fill their seats.

For athletes now there is a Third Way. American Apparel has produced a line in T-shirts that will shout louder than any boycott. And far from breaking any law or transgressing the IOC’s ban on political statements, it turns the attack brilliantly on the IOC.

The T-shirts, under the name Principle 6, publicize that number in the IOC’s own Charter, the one that refers to discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and gender.

Not being official team wear it could not be worn in competition arenas but there is nothing to stop athletes, officials and spectators sporting it informally  in their own time within the Athletes’ Village or around Sochi itself. How could the IOC object to the proclamation of its own Charter?

Belle Brockhoft, an Australian snow boarder who came out earlier in the year, has promised already to wear it. “It’s simple, it’s powerful and I think will change a lot of things after the Games,” she has said in her local newspaper.

Perhaps not a lot but if IOC members take home with them the message that they must do more in future to hold Olympic hosts to account on the letter and spirit of the Olympic Charter it will have succeeded where boycotts have always failed.

The message Obama and his fellow presidents send by their absence is that the IOC and its Olympic Games do not matter. Their nations will each rue the day.

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 · Neil Wilson · Sochi 2014 · Barack Obama · Joachim Gauck · Francois Hollande ·

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