President Barack Obama waded into the debate over a potential boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics on Friday, and made exactly the right call.
While Obama admitted he is "offended" by Russia's much-criticized stance on homosexual rights, he was adamant that a conscientious withdrawal from the Games in Sochi next February would be a significant mistake.
The furor over a new regulation implemented by the Russian government that appears to severely impinge gay rights and could lead to homosexuals being targeted for arrest, has led to calls for the United States and other nations to pull out of the event in protest.
However, Obama was correct in his assertion that the best way to show the folly of the controversial regulations is by turning up in defiance rather than staying away in disgust.
"I do not think it is appropriate to boycott the Olympics," Obama said at a White House news conference. "We have got a bunch of Americans who are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed.
"One of the things I am looking forward to is maybe some gay or lesbian athletes bringing home the gold, silver or bronze. If Russia doesn't have gay or lesbian athletes, it will probably make their team weaker."
As strong a statement as pulling the U.S. team out would be, a far more compelling one can be made by attending. Jesse Owens caused more embarrassment to Adolf Hitler in 1936 by being a superstar on the track rather than an objector sitting at home.
"The Games bring people together," United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackman said in a statement. "They unite the world and break down barriers. They demonstrate how people with disparate views can come together and celebrate what they have in common, most notably the will to be the best you can be."
Any glory attained by openly gay athletes from the U.S. or elsewhere, such as figure skater Johnny Weir or New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup, who will wear a rainbow pin in Sochi, can only serve to highlight the unfairness and stupidity of laws that some legal experts believe potentially criminalize acts like holding hands and kissing in public.
Yahoo! Sports has spent time in Russia as part of preparations for the Olympics and a straw poll among the local homosexual community, both in Sochi itself and capital city Moscow, unearthed no support for a boycott.
Indeed, the feeling seemed to be that such a move would only provoke more discrimination against Russia's gay population and serve to worsen their overall plight.
Sadly, the recent push for restrictive regulations against homosexuals appears to stem not directly from the personal views of the political hierarchy, but may instead be a reaction to widespread public intolerance.
Indeed, save for some spattered protests from human rights groups, and despite outrage internationally, Putin's measures to clamp down on gay "propaganda" have met with solid approval on the home front.
Realistically, gay athletes are unlikely to meet with much legal interference during the Olympics – Russia is too savvy to create a high-profile scandal with the eyes of the world watching.
If a boycott would serve to greatly enhance the conditions of Russia's gay population, then it may have some merits. But it won't. The spin machine of one of the world's most powerful countries is not going to be thrown out of synch by such an action, which would serve only to deny countless athletes of their own golden dreams.
- Politics & Government
- Sports & Recreation
- Barack Obama
- 2014 Winter Olympics