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Social Issues
Stephen Fry’s Open Letter: “An Absolute Ban On The Russian Winter Olympics… Is Simply Essential”
August 7, 2013
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Stephen Fry meets with a deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Vitaly Milonov in St. Petersburg, March 14, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

In an open letter addressed to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Stephen Fry calls for "an absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014."

Fry's letter begins by comparing the actions of the Russian government with those of the Nazis ahead of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, writing that "Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians... He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews."

In March, Fry met with Vitaly Milonov, the author of Russia's "gay propaganda" law.

In his letter, Fry writes about that meeting, saying he "tried to reason with him, counter him, make him understand what he was doing," but that Milonov was unmoved.

Addressing the IOC, Fry writes "I am begging you to resist the pressures of pragmatism, of money, of the oily cowardice of diplomats and to stand up resolutely and proudly for humanity the world over."

You can read the full text of the open letter at StephenFry.com.

Stephen Fry was on the program a couple of years back. Here he is in the red chair talking about confidence, and the value of being vulnerable.

He is only one of many voices weighing in on the idea of boycotting, moving, or otherwise protesting the Sochi Olympics. Here are some other opinions on both sides of the issue.

Romesh Ratnesar: "Boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics is a Really Bad Idea"

stephen-fry-ramesh.jpgWriting in Bloomberg Businessweek, Ratnesar lists some of the reasons the U.S. may be considering boycotting the 2014 Winter Games, including Russia's law making "the public discussion of gay rights or relationships punishable by arrests or fines."

He argues that a U.S. boycott would "be a disaster" for a few reasons. First, he says, "Olympic boycotts have proved to be singularly useless instruments of foreign policy."

He points to the decision of 25 African nations to boycott the 1976 Montreal Olympics in protest against New Zealand's tour of South Africa during apartheid. That boycott, he writes, "hurt Canada far more than it did either New Zealand or South Africa's apartheid regime, which survived another 18 years."

He also suggests that "biggest beneficiary of a U.S. boycott of the Sochi Games would be the host nation itself," because the absence of the U.S. team could lead to more medals for Russian athletes.

George Takei: "Move the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Russia" (Maybe To Vancouver)

stephen-fry-takei.jpgOn the website of 'Allegiance: A New American Musical', actor and LGBT activist George Takei writes that the 2014 Olympics should be moved to another city - and one of his suggestions is Vancouver.

Responding to calls for boycotts of the Games, or of Russian products like vodka, Takei says they are "understandable," but that "a boycott of the games would punish athletes who have trained for years to participate, and a boycott of Russian vodka isn't going to effect the kind of change needed."

Takei also writes, "many believe that such a call to move the Olympics out of Russia goes too far. Would this be their opinion if the law instead called for the arrest of any Jews, Roman Catholics or Muslims should they display any sign of their religion, such as a wearing a yamaka or praying while facing Mecca? Discrimination in any form is a blight upon the Winter Games, and it must not be tolerated."

In the final paragraph, he suggests that Vancouver would the ideal place to move the Games to, since the facilities from 2010 are "still in good condition."

He points readers to this Change.org petition calling on the IOC to move the Olympics.

Outsports Co-Founder Cyd Zeigler: "Don't Boycott: Ban Russia From Their Own Winter Olympics"

stephen-fry-cyd.jpgWriting on the Huffington Post, Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of OutSports suggests that the best way "to make a real statement, to send a message to the Russians that these laws cannot stand" is to "ban Russia from competing in their own Winter Olympic Games."

He argues that "the new Russian law is in clear and direct conflict with the Olympic Charter, creating a system of discrimination that forces LGBT athletes into a life of fear and isolation."

In 1964, Zeigler points out, the IOC banned South Africa from Olympic competition over apartheid policies, a policy they were only willing to reverse if the country's government agreed to "publicly renounce all racial discrimination in sport." They refused, and their athletes did not compete.

Zeigler writes that a ban on Russian athletes "puts the onus for action squarely where it belongs: on the IOC."

Figure Skater Johnny Weir: "I implore the world not to boycott the Olympic Games"

stephen-fry-johnny-weir.jpgWriting in his column for the Falls Church News-Press, Olympic hopeful figure skater Johnny Weir, who is openly gay, writes "I implore the world not to boycott the Olympic Games because of Russia's stance on LGBT rights or lack thereof."

He describes the many sacrifices his family has made to allow him to train in his sport, and discusses the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which the U.S. did boycott: "American athletes could simply sit at home and watch, as their competitors enjoyed Olympic glory, and dream of what might have been."

Weir addresses LGBT athletes who are competing: "I beg the gay athletes not to forget their missions and fight for a chance to dazzle the world."

In his closing paragraph, he writes "the Olympics are history, and they do not represent their host, they represent the world entire."

Sports Columnist Peter FitzSimons: Australia Should Boycott the Olympics to Protest "Russia's Homophobia"

stephen-fry-fitzsimon.jpg"When it came to the liberation of South Africa from white-only rule and dismantling the outrageous system of apartheid, sport played a wonderful role," Peter FitzSimons writes in a column for Australia's Brisbane Times.

He goes on to argue that the response to Russia's stance on LGBT people, from both the IOC and the Australian Olympic Committee, has been inadequate: "In response to such an outrage - so totally inimical to what is supposed to be the core inclusive values of the Olympic movement - the IOC has not uttered a peep of criticism. Nor has the AOC! Not a peep!"

FitzSimons calls for a coalition of "the major Western nations" to boycott the Games, and suggests that Australia should take the lead: "Just as Australia was to the fore on rugby sanctions against South Africa, why not take the lead on this one, too?"

Patrick Burke: "LGBT Olympians and Allies Should Show Up in Russia"

stephen-fry-patrick-burke.jpgIn this op-ed for Buzzfeed, Canadian Patrick Burke writes "at the You Can Play Project, we believe that sports can change the world. And for that reason, we are staunchly against the idea of a boycott."

Burke writes that a boycott "will not work," and states that he does not believe Russia would "ever take the step of jailing an Olympic athlete from a foreign nation and risking real retribution on an international scale."

He also suggests that "the Olympics are supposed to be apolitical ... and no political issue, no matter how jarring, offensive, or downright inhumane it may be supersedes that ideal."

Burke calls on participating countries to "send our openly LGBT and 'publicly pro-gay' athletes and let them compete. Let them win. Show the world that there are elite LGBT athletes who are not afraid to be themselves, on and off the playing field."

Related:

Vancouver Bars Boycott Russian Vodka To Protest Anti-Gay Laws

Activists In Russia Say New Laws That Ban 'Homosexual Propaganda' Are Fuelling Attacks Against Gays

The NHL & NHLPA Are Partnering With 'You Can Play' To Fight Homophobia

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