I was born in the former Soviet Union, and immigrated to the US with my parents in the late 1970s as part of a deal wherein Jews were traded for wheat.
When Sochi was awarded the Winter Olympics for 2014, I wasn’t thrilled (and not only because, as a Black Sea resort town, I didn’t see how it would be cold enough), but considering it wasn’t the first time Russia had hosted the Games, I viewed it as more International Olympic Committee (IOC) politics — par for the course.
Then Russian President Vladimir Putin began his onslaught of anti-gay legislation – and all hell broke loose.
Let me make this perfectly clear: I do not approve, in any shape or form, of any aspect of Mr. Putin’s legislation. It is repulsive.
But, then again, it is hardly the first time Russia and/or the Soviet Union have passed repulsive legislation targeting a variety of minority groups.
Because of my experience in televised figure skating, I know many people in the US and international skating community – former athletes, officials, etc…. Many of these people are calling for a boycott of the Games due to the recent legislation.
These would be the same people who had no trouble traveling to and competing in Russia and the Soviet Union at a time when its government was oppressing and imprisoning political dissidents, as well as Jews, Gypsies, Armenians, Chechnyans, Christians, Georgians, Tatars, Muslims, Japanese, actual Caucasians and, oh, yes, by the way, homosexuals, too. At the time, though, those of us who chose to speak up – granted, a huge part of that contingent was the Free Soviet Jewry movement with its vested interest – were told that sports should be apolitical, did we really want to stand in the way of opportunities for these talented young athletes and, besides, don’t the Russians love their children, too, Sting?
From the same people who are only now calling for a boycott, have come observations like, “If it had been any other group but homosexuals who were being prosecuted, America and the rest of the world would have withdrawn in a heartbeat.”
You mean, the way they withdrew from the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin? The way the Games were cancelled in Munich in 1972 following the massacre of Israeli athletes? The way they were shunned in 2008 when Human Rights Watch issued a report about abuses and violations in China directly connected to the Olympics themselves?
Let’s not be naïve. All countries have something to be ashamed about historically, and all governments could stand to improve their relationships with their citizens.
Being a Soviet Jew, I suspect I’m more sensitive than the average person regarding the actions of present-day Russia. But, I am sensitive to their actions across the board. As well as to the actions of those who only speak up when it’s their particular community that’s being targeted.
There is nothing wrong with calling for a boycott of the Sochi 2014 Olympics. But to act like this is Russia’s first-ever human-rights offense – or to suggest that those who oppose moving the Games do it solely because of who is being targeted – smacks of, at best, ignorance about 20th century history and, at worst, self-absorbed hypocrisy.
Personally, I thought the IOC should have pulled the games the minute Putin said that he could not guarantee the safety of international participating athletes and visitors.
But, it’s obviously too late now. The Games will go on as scheduled. And I’ll be blogging about them for The Times of Israel.
So, fair warning, Russia: I’m watching you! And I won’t be pulling my punches!