Adam Johnson-Eder is a partner in The Shoe Addicts, our digital partner. A student of history, Adam asked us about writing a piece on the recent discussions on Russian anti-gay legislation and the world reaction.
The Sochi Dilemma by Adam Johnson-Eder
Over the past month, it has been difficult to ignore the anti lGBT backlash in Russia following President Putin signing some extremely conservative legislation into law. While those of us with a conscience have difficulty wrapping our heads around the ramifications for the people of Russia and guests of the country in Sochi for 2014, a knee jerk boycott is definitively an incorrect response, and we can see that truth in the past century of the modern Olympiad.
In 1980, president Jimmy Carter made the mistake of boycotting Moscow and pressuring USATF to refuse sending our team, yet it accomplished nothing. By boycotting in 1980 we simply made it easier for the Soviet Union to seize 195 medals in 23 events, compare that to just eight years later in Seoul and the number drops to 132 total medals in 27 events.
In 1936, the United States sent a team to Nazi Germany for the Berlin Olympics, after Adolf Hitler tried to ban Jews and non whites from competition. while Jewish-American athletes such as Milton Green and Norman Cahners opted to not go, eighteen African American athletes like Jesse Owens chose to compete.
The fact is, there is a beautiful purity to athletic competition that most sports cannot claim. Despite the drug busts and bans, the sexism inherent in earlier eras, the divas and the outspoken athletes, modern athletics is meant to continue the proud tradition of sport transcending race, borders, gender and sexual orientation. Back in the ancient era, Spartans and Athenians would lay down their arms in times of war, and embrace their fellow man as brothers in the crucible of sport. The homophobia and hate in Russia is no different than racism in earlier eras, it will be eroded by the relentless march of time. No government has the right to deny its people the opportunity to compete with their nation’s dreams on their shoulders. If athletes individually choose to not compete, that is their choice, as Green and Cahners did. But the spirit of athletic competition and pride will last far longer than these borders we cling to as a global village, just look to the Greeks