A recent drawn-out catfight on Twitter between 3 of my colleagues, spawned by the Sochi Games boycott movement, has suddenly become even more irrelevant, tiresome, and childish.
Ted Bird of TSN 690 wrote a column about the boycott of the 2014 Sochi Games to protest Russia’s stance on homosexuality. Zealots from almost every corner tackled him like a running back barreling in the wrong direction. But Ted knows football; he’d never make that mistake. However the zealots would seem to have piled on top of one of their own.
Ted took hits from several in the gay and journalism communities, from Supriya Dwivedi, from Dan Delmar, and he even got a little kick in the shins from Steve Faguy. What bothered me initially is how all the would-be boycotters who seemed to have a problem with Russia’s stance on homosexuality in particular, and you would think suppression in general, were trying to suppress Ted. One Twit, a would-be sensor, even went so far as to advise Ted that he should not have written about it. Is freedom of speech really freedom of speech? Or is it freedom of speech as long as it conforms to what the majority think and feel, dissenters be damned?
I’m not saying that Ted is a dissenter. I’m saying that he, like anyone else, is entitled to his opinion. Ted is one of the most intelligent, informed, and well-read individuals I know. Perhaps in the present case he let his ego get the better of him and let the caustic barbs fly. But to be fair, some of his detractors fired some poison-tipped arrows of their own.
The whole thing was interesting for about a minute and a half.
But then I came across a comment on Facebook that gave me pause. Peter Mats is an accountant by day, Facebook vigilante by night. He posted the following in his status update:
Still more talk from the left (primarily) about Canada boycotting the Sochi games because of the way Russia treats their homosexual community. To that, I ask them, “Have you ever bought anything that was Made in China? Do you know how gays are treated in China? Or the Tibetans? Or its own people? Do you use fuel or heating oil? Do you know how Saudi Arabia treats its gays? Or women?
That post was followed by the following:
If these phones (sic) really cared about homosexuals, why don’t they start right here at home, by stopping to purchase Chinese goods or cutting down on fuel so that we give less time the Saudis. But that would be too difficult. So let’s just fuck our athletes. Easy solution since, let’s face it, none of us are directly affected by the Olympics. We’re not athletes. We don’t work at the Olympics. So it’s easy to say “Boycott”. After all, it doesn’t personally affect us in any way. Easy. We always go for Easy. Fucking hypocrites. – Peter Mats.
Peter’s been a Facebook Friend for quite some time. His posts are always pointed, sharp, and thought-provoking. I won’t presume to call him a conservative… or myself a liberal for that matter… even though those descriptors may indeed apply to both of us, because to do so would somehow take away from the inherent truth in his observation, and my willingness to accept it.
In the decades since Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic spirit with the modern Olympic Games, and the so-called “Olympic movement,” many have contravened the Olympic Charter. Even the IOC itself went against its own charter when they agreed, at London 2012, to erect a makeshift barrier between the Israeli and Lebanese judo teams because the Lebanese delegation refused to practice alongside the Israelis. A travesty if you consider, first, that whatever had passed between those 2 countries politically ought not to have been laid at the feet of the athletes and, second, the charter itself emphasizes, in Chapter 1, Article 6, that “the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and NOT between countries” (emphasis mine). Further, as the preamble of the Charter states quite clearly, under the section titled Fundamental Principles of Olympism, “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” Hence, that barrier between the Lebanese and Israeli delegations should never have been erected. Furthermore, and with all due respect to Ted Bird’s position, the same stated principle (“…politics, gender or otherwise…”) clearly ought to govern Russia’s position on homosexuality.
The news has been rife with planned boycotts and protests, and plans to dump gallons of Russian vodka (the alcoholic equivalent to the legendary Boston Tea Party?). I’m more of a whisky drinker myself. But when it comes to vodka I’ve always preferred Absolut, even though hipsters who don’t really know their Stoli from their Moski insist that Grey Goose is the best vodka… but I digress.
Peter’s comments on Facebook express his frustration with the hypocrisy of those protesters who jump all over an issue because it affects them personally, but might not know enough to protest inhumane practices in other countries that produce the things we enjoy every day: coffee, cocoa, diamonds, the authentic Asian rugs you might have in your homes. We know more about blood diamonds now, but how many of us ask a jeweller showing us a beautiful engagement ring where the diamond came from? What did it take before you started buying Fair Trade coffee and chocolate? Do you know where the grounds in your Tim Horton’s Double-Double come from? What about the pods you use in your Tassimo machines?
At the very least, the Sochi protests have indeed raised awareness about Russia’s stance on homosexuality, just as the 2008 Olympics did about human rights issues in China. However just yesterday Uzra Zeya, acting assistant US secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, argued that human rights abuses in China are actually getting worse. Is that because after the games finished we’d moved on and forgotten China? And if so, what happens to Russia’s gay community after Sochi? Who’s responsibility will they be then?