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Former NBA Player John Amaechi Calls On Sochi Olympians To 'Use Podium As A Soap Box'

6a00d8341c730253ef0133f257b78c970b-300wiAmidst 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 “ 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.

6a00d8341c730253ef019104a08a0a970c-250wiDespite 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.

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  1. Tweeted

    JONES ‏@JONES85102300

    History shows not only those that stand against persecution but also those that stand silently by. Demand Russia protect it's LGBT citizens.

    Retweet. Send thru infosphere.

    Posted by: JONES | Aug 12, 2013 10:21:00 AM

  2. And we expect our allies ti the athletic world to STAND UP and act and demonstrate in support of their friends and brothers and sisters.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Aug 12, 2013 10:39:46 AM

  3. Tweeted

    JONES ‏@JONES85102300

    'Gay is Normal' LGBT activist Alexi Davydov … Demand Russia protect it's LGBT citizens.
    'Protecting children' LIE.

    Retweet. Sreead thru infosphere.

    Posted by: JONES | Aug 12, 2013 10:49:17 AM

  4. Well said, John Amaechi. May others take note.

    Posted by: Ernie | Aug 12, 2013 11:02:51 AM

  5. The Olympics WILL be in Sochi. End of story. And the bigger fuss the Olympians make, the more attention NBC (and other broadcasters around the world) will have to give the issue. THAT is what will help. A boycott will do nothing.

    Posted by: Robert | Aug 12, 2013 11:09:23 AM

  6. So the man who stayed in the closet to protect his paycheck and so he wouldn’t be called a sissy in the locker room is requesting others go to a foreign country and put their lives and careers on the line. Stay in the closet if you are a pro athlete and there are millions at stake (as he has recommended pro athletes do) but if you are only an Olympic athlete, most of you won’t be making much after the Olympics so you can be our voice. Will Mr. Amaechi be in Sochi with his rainbow flag? Why wait until February to do something, go over today and protest now. You can’t sit around and ask others to fight, you have to go and be in the crowd and fight.

    Posted by: Frank | Aug 12, 2013 11:09:33 AM

  7. tommie smith and john carlos have always been men I've admired. Athletes could hardly ask for more courageous role models who exemplify the Olympian creed. I imagine many don't know who these two fine individuals are so it wouldn't hurt any of us to at least google their names.


    Posted by: robert | Aug 12, 2013 11:36:25 AM

  8. Amaechi is a blowhard trying to be a fame whore. Have several seats.

    Posted by: Kissyfur | Aug 12, 2013 12:41:02 PM

  9. A letter in one of our local newspapers (they don't post these on the Internet, at least not free of charge), stated, "Instead of boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics over Russia's new anti-gay law, the entire USA team could just walk in holding hands."

    Imagine if other countries did the same thing - it would make a joke of Russia's law, and they can't arrest everyone even if they want to without shutting down the whole event and making themselves an international pariah.

    Posted by: Bill | Aug 12, 2013 12:42:51 PM

  10. Since a boycott is probably not going to happen, defiance on the worlds stage is the next best thing. I agree that ALL participants take a position, from all countries, but I am sure that any efforts here will all be downplayed by NBC and the Russian authorities.

    The real test will be on the ground and in the stands.

    What will the IOC do when the first spectator or visitor is beaten fined or even killed because they too took a stand against this barbaric russian law. Will we even know about it?

    How will the IOC and the russian authorities justify it then?

    This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

    Posted by: Will | Aug 12, 2013 12:45:08 PM

  11. The Russians have responded that there will be no mercy for protesters at the Olympics, everyone will have to obey the law.

    Posted by: anon | Aug 12, 2013 5:11:35 PM

  12. Sounds just right. It is similar to what the Russian LGBT Network has been calling for.

    Posted by: andrew | Aug 12, 2013 7:22:18 PM

  13. Comparing what's going on in Russia to what happened in Germany really just wrecks your argument and credibility.

    There is little comparison, and making the comparison makes you, and people that agree with it look like the complete idiots they are.

    On the bright side, people I've encountered that I've heard repeating it have done me a great favor in letting me know who to avoid interacting with. I don't have time to waste around retards.

    Posted by: Beth | Aug 12, 2013 11:01:06 PM

  14. Simply holding hands is sufficient. Let them try to prosecute/persecute people for holding hands.

    Posted by: Franklin | Aug 12, 2013 11:02:33 PM

  15. I don't agree with him at all. The athletes won't boycott Sochi - most of them are straight anyway and want the glory.

    So it's up to us. Don't buy any product that gets advertised during an ad break when the games play. Make it clear you won't do this. Tweet your disgust at companies that get linked to the Olympics through sponsorship. Refer to the Olympics as the Homophobic Olympics frequently - so that the two words become forever associated with each other.

    We have months left before these games go ahead. A lot can happen in that time. We aren't going anywhere and we aren't going to shut up about this.

    Posted by: Betty Treacle | Aug 13, 2013 3:46:28 AM

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