Former NBA Player John Amaechi Calls On Sochi Olympians To 'Use Podium As A Soap Box'
Amidst calls for boycotts, bans and a relocation of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, out former NBA player John Amaechi has written an open letter to Olympic athletes and National Olympic Committees urging them not to boycott and not to stand as silent witnesses to the atrocities being committed against LGBT Russians. Amaechi, who in 2012 criticized the IOC's "cowardice" for not standing up for LGBT rights, writes:
Reasonable people can argue whether your ‘job’ is to win medals, to ski, skate, shoot and whatever else you do better than anyone else in the world. But as a former athlete myself, I know that what we do in practice and competition is only one small part of of our job. Many of you are icons in your respective sports, inspirational to a generation of young people who hang on your every tweet, ape your every action and follow your every suggestion. As such, it is your responsibility - as much as the quest for gold - to show the world that you understand that sport, especially Olympic sport, IS intrinsically political. It is your responsibility as you prepare to go to Sochi to publicly acknowledge that your games happen on the backs of the abuse of migrant workers, the threatening of environmental activists and journalists, the ‘disappearance’ of €25 billion and indeed, in the context of a country that is facilitating and then ignoring the torture of young gay boys and girls.
I’m not here to distract you from your previously singular purpose of representing yourself and your country in Sochi. Rather, I want you to fulfil that obligation to it’s fullest. I want you to embrace the supposed ‘Fundamental Principles of Olympism’ and in the IOC’s own words “...place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
Amaechi also comments on Stephen Fry's recent remarks comparing Russia's persecution of gays to Nazi Germany's persecution of Jews:
You have may have heard Russian, British and other Olympic and public officials balk at Stephen Fry’s analogy of Russia’s anti-propaganda laws with Nazi Germany’s. Normally, the internet revels in Godwin’s law where any argument ends up with one side calling the other a Nazi, but in this case, take a look for yourself at the 1935 Nuremberg laws and the eerie similarity with these laws designed to create an official smokescreen for the crude, stereotyping and scientifically disproven marginalization of certain minorities. Please do not be fooled by superficially charming men who defend the atrocities of regimes that have elevated them positions of power. History is littered with such men and their obfuscation should not be compounded by our silent collaboration.
Despite the ambiguity as to whether displays of support for LGBT rights will be tolerated by the Russian Federation to say nothing of the IOC itself, Amaechi underscores his belief in the importance of standing up and speaking out against the persecution of gays in Russia, stating,
Just as history is littered with the powerful men I described earlier, it is equally strewn with other figures who could have made a stand and taken action to highlight and embolden the oppressed but instead chose not to... and to my mind, no amount of gold hung around a neck can outshine the shame of such a stain."
I understand the logical, principled stand behind a call for a boycott, but I see it as impractical, politically untenable and if attempted, at best, piecemeal. I have also spoken to several key Russian activists who want the games to go ahead so that the athletes can compete, win and most importantly when they take those podiums - stand for something more than their personal and national glory.
Like Tommie Smith and John Carlos before you, you do not change the world by winning alone, but by using that podium as a soap box and in the 21st century the ways you can do that are wonderfully creative and varied, but don’t fool yourself into thinking, as one athlete I spoke to today, that winning in silence will show your support, that act is an abdication of the most important role any athlete can aspire to have - that of multidimensional exemplar to the world of sport and beyond [...]
Maybe you wish sports wasn’t political, maybe you think misguidedly that it isn’t, but whatever your thoughts, understand that the young people being tortured in Russia today will not know by telepathy that you abhor their treatment, the families of slain journalists will not not understand by looking into your tearful eyes on the podium that you support them and the world will not recognise that you stand for more than yourself unless you say or do something to make that clear at a time when the world is watching you.
You can read the letter in full HERE.