The Shame Of Sochi


If I appear a little slow out of the blocks on this topic, what with the Winter Olympic Games now only a few days away, it is only because the perfect article had already been submitted by the brilliant Stephen Fry.  It is here, please read it:

However, further crimes have since come to light, one in particular close to my heart, so I thought I ought in fact to summarise why I agree that a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi is indeed essential.

As should be clear, the price, that is to say principally the moral price, of victory for any athlete was already too high before recent developments, but now, to the outrage of holding a major global event in an openly homophobic state, we can add to the list unprecedented corruption, the non-payment and intimidation of migrant workers, the environmentally unsound disposal of waste from the development project and, despite assurances to the contrary, the senseless murder of thousands of stray cats and dogs.

Putin’s law which bans homosexual propaganda, bought and paid for by the Russian Orthodox Church he’s desperate to court, is so obviously sending a message that it hardly warrants discussion.  The basic claim that gay people wish to convert children, and are actively seeking to expose them to overtly sexual material, is baseless of course.  It is such a familiar tactic by homophobes to invoke a concern for children that it’s almost a cliché.  We can all agree that sexual material is not for children but this doesn’t require a specific law regarding homosexuals.  And whilst it is easy to see what may be in it for religious people to indoctrinate children at a young age, it’s not clear (even if it were possible) what is in it for gay people to do likewise.  The law is in fact so vague in its wording that it could be used against gay people for doing almost anything, at the whim of god knows who.  As if the real intentions of this legislation were not transparent enough then, Putin polished away the final smudges two weeks ago when he said this: “You can feel free in your relationships, but leave children in peace.”  If these Olympics awarded medals for being covertly sinister, then Mr Putin would surely take home the gold.

Everyone agrees that the Sochi games have cost at least £30 billion to prepare for, but no one really knows the true figure, if only because more than half the workers at the various construction sites have not been paid.  To give this number some context, the previous Winter Olympics cost £1.2 billion, and the London 2012 Summer Games, criticised as they rightly were for their lavishness in the face of growing austerity, cost £11 billion.  The Mayor of Sochi denies there is a problem with corruption however, just as he denies the intimidation of journalists reporting it and the destruction of surrounding habitats with the illegal dumping of ‘Olympic waste’ – but then this is a man who also refutes the existence of a single homosexual person in the whole of Sochi, in spite of there being several thriving underground gay nightclubs.

Today it is being reported that authorities in Sochi are undertaking the shooting of an estimated 2,000 stray cats and dogs.  Dogs are apparently attacking children (notice the invocation of children yet again) and straying into Olympic venues.  One might wish to table a few objections; firstly, if dogs are attacking kids on mass on the streets of Sochi, then why have they not attempted to resolve the problem (humanely) before now?  As stray dogs are usually weak, cold, tired, hungry and/or pregnant, it seems to me unlikely that they are wasting their much needed energy on attacking people.

Secondly, if dogs, not dissimilar in size to a human being on all fours, are getting into Olympic venues unnoticed, should we be more than a little concerned that terrorists may be following on behind?

Finally, as I assume cats are not forming gangs and dragging the children of Sochi off into the night for ritual slaughter, it is unclear what the official justification for their murder really is.

Perhaps then, we might dare to wonder if this has in fact been an issue long overlooked in Russia, and so to avoid its exposure via the eyesore of thousands of starving animals most of us in the west recognise as pets, the problem is being cruelly fast tracked.  Apparently nothing must ruin Putin’s big day out.

There really are some things more important than sport, even Olympic sport.  Certainly it can never justify diabolical abuses of human and animal rights.  Long before now we ought to have taken a stand against this international advertisement and promotion of a regime that insults human dignity during its most precious moments.  Whilst it is still not too late for the athletes to put their consciences before personal sporting ambition, even I can concede that it may be unfair to expect them to do so at the eleventh hour.  The correct procedure would have been to change the venue months ago.  However, everyone else can boycott it.  Journalists can refuse to write about it.  Television companies, especially the tax payer funded BBC, can put into effect a media blackout, sponsors can ask for their money back, and all the rest of us can show absolutely no interest in it.  This is a crucial moment in our history.  We must show that we have learnt from the past (for example, Berlin, 1936) and not be seen yet again to celebrate and endorse the rule of a murderous tyrant.