Sochi 2014: Would a boycott of the Winter Olympics make any difference?


Some athletes and fans fear a frosty reception following anti-gay legislation.


By Alice Todman

It’s unlikely that the UK will ever host the Winter Olympics; Russia’s climate and landscape make it the more fitting venue.

However, some athletes and sports fans fear a frosty reception in Sochi 2014 following brutal anti-gay legislation introduced by President Vladimir Putin earlier this year.

Openly gay public figures like Stephen Fry have called for a boycott of the games to demonstrate the international community’s solidarity with LGBT Russians.

James Sherrard, a student in Wimbledon, said: “I don’t know how much a boycott would help, but I think it would set a much needed precedent. It needs to be shown that it is unacceptable.”

He cited the philosopher Edmund Burke, saying the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Putin has indicated that LGBT people will not be discriminated against during the games and suggested the laws will be relaxed for the event.

Under current Russians laws, people can be arrested for so-called gay ‘propaganda”’promoting “non-traditional” relationships.

All LGBT organisations are banned, pride parades have been cancelled and physical and sexual violence against openly gay or “suspected” gay individuals has increased.

Ingellin Lilleborge, a Norwegian student at Kingston University, said: “In Norway, the general opinion seems to be that not attending wouldn’t lead to anything positive, anyway, so our athletes might as well go and represent our country.

 “I think the best way of challenging prejudice is to attend the games, so that nations can come together in solidarity and just share their love of winter sports.”

These athletes have put too much time and effort into their training to ultimately not attend the most important winter sports arrangement that only comes along every four years, she added.

“I don’t think nations boycotting the Olympics is going to magically cure people of their ignorance.”

In an open letter the Prime Minister, Stephen Fry compared the decision to attend the Sochi Olympics to attending the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Hitler.

In response to Fry’s letter, David Cameron tweeted “I share your deep concern about the abuse of gay people in Russia, however I believe we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Olympics.”

There have been several boycotts throughout the history of the Olympics, but they have rarely resulted in change.

In 1908 Ireland boycotted the London Olympics over independence, which did not resolve the complex issue.

Rennae Stubbs, a retired Australian Olympic medal-winning tennis player, who is openly gay, criticized the International Olympic Committee’s role in the Winter Olympics.

“Sport doesn’t discriminate. So don’t allow a country that does to become a future host. Don’t make the athletes sacrifice their dreams to inspire a change. Don’t stop them from taking part,” she wrote on

Sport is meant to be for everyone, so why allow something so positive to be undermined by discrimination?

Photo courtesy of Documentally, with thanks.

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