British Columbia

Moving Sochi Olympics to Vancouver not 'practical,' councillor says

A Vancouver city councillor says it's not practical for Vancouver to host the upcoming Winter Olympics, despite a growing online petition calling for the Games to be moved out of Russia to protest the country's anti-gay laws.

Actor and activist George Takei joins petition to move Games to Vancouver

The Olympic torch burns at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where some activists would like to see the 2014 Winter Games moved from Sochi, Russia. (Marcio Sanchez/Associated Press)

A Vancouver city councillor says it’s not practical for Vancouver to host the upcoming Winter Olympics, despite a growing online petition calling for the Games to be moved out of Russia to protest the country’s anti-gay laws.

Coun. Geoff Meggs said welcoming the Olympics back to Vancouver would not be "like putting fresh sheets on the guest bed."  

"I can understand the intention, but practically, I don't see how it could happen," he said Wednesday, noting Vancouver had seven years to plan the 2010 Games after they were awarded.

"I think lots of people in Vancouver would love to have the Games again, but it's a question of who would pay for it and how it could possibly be done, and I don't think we know the answer to either of those questions," he said.

Actor and activist George Takei, best known for playing Lt. Sulu in the original Star Trek television series, is the latest celebrity to weigh in on the Olympic controversy, endorsing a petition at that had already garnered more than 96,000 supporters Thursday afternoon.

"What we need to do is not boycott, but to move it out of Sochi, and the obvious place to move it to is Vancouver, where the facilities still exist," Takei said in an interview with the CBC Radio’s As it Happens. 

"Rather than afford [Vladimir] Putin this international platform where he can prove his stature and strengthen his political position, the Olympics must not be used for that and certainly not put LGBT athletes and their supporters in great jeopardy by having it in Sochi," he said.

An 'intolerable situation'

The Kremlin passed a law in late June that makes it illegal to spread "propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations" to minors, under threat of steep fines. Many critics of the new law point to it as evidence that homophobia is on the rise in Russia.

Violent attacks on gay rights activists in the country have become "frequent," according to Amnesty International, and questions have been raised about how to best to keep athletes and fans who support gay rights safe at the Sochi Olympics this winter.

Takei called it an "intolerable situation" that "goes completely contrary to the spirit of the Olympics."

He noted that sporting facilities and other Olympic-related infrastructure were already in place in Vancouver since the city hosted the winter Olympics in 2010.

He also suggested that the Olympic Games could be delayed to allow for the move.

"If there is a will, it can be done. Solutions can be found," he said. "Maybe perhaps not in six months, but then the event should be delayed a year so the appropriate time can be allotted to it."

Another option Takei suggested was to have various Olympic events hosted in different cities.

"Speed skating might be in one city and hockey might be in another country, in another city," he said. "But to have Sochi, Russia, host the Olympics will be a disaster."

Takei admitted there would be challenges, but that a nay-saying attitude was "essentially supporting  the Russian position."

"There are all those reasons why it can’t be done, but the approach should be to solve the problem and not to let Russia have that platform."

Russia says law won't affect athletes

Both Meggs and Takei have called for stronger leadership from the International Olympic Committee.

But IOC spokesman Mark Adams said in an emailed statement the IOC has "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that [anti-gay] legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."

Russia's assurances to the IOC seemed to contradict a recent announcement by the country's sports minister.

"An athlete of non-traditional sexual orientation isn't banned from coming to Sochi," Vitaly Mutko said in an interview with R-Sport, the sports newswire of state news agency RIA Novosti. "But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable."

Adams said the nascent nature of Russia's legislation means it is too early to tell how it will be implemented, particularly with regard to the Games.

"As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media," he said.