Question time: How can you change the minds of bigots? The Winter Olympics 2014 & beyond


Illustration by Eve Bracewell

In case you’ve been living under a giant ass rock or perhaps more likely just been on holiday, there’s a storm brewing around the Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi. And it didn’t start in the clouds above the Urals, nor does it have anything to do with FIS v TTR. It started in the Kremlin or more specifically the heads of President Vladimir Putin and his posse who in June banned “homosexual propaganda” in their country to “protect young people”. From what they need protecting isn’t exactly clear (the right to be themselves maybe?) but as a result you can be fined and in some cases arrested for being gay and out in Russia. A country of 143 million people. In 2013…

And with Russia due to host the world’s biggest winter sports jamboree next year with over 5000 athletes, many of who are gay but a far larger proportion presumably pro-the human right to be gay, we obviously have ourselves a situation. But what’s the best response?

a) Look down on them for their unenlightened views. Kinda doing that already. This is after all a land where girls snowboard naked  and surf in high heels but fully clothed gay folk can’t hold hands.

b) Bomb the bastards. Tempting but probably gets filed in the stooping way below their level category. [NB: That was a joke in case anyone was about to poison me by isotope!]

c) Boycott. Many people including the mighty Stephen Fry have suggested it, comparing Putin and his cronies to the Nazis and saying it’s the only plausible reaction in “desperate hope for humanity”. He’s probably right, he usually is, but is it a realistic ask? When so many athletes have hawked their financial futures on attending the games and unless you’re Shaun White (who needs to be extra-careful because Putin will probably be onto gingers once he’s done with gay people as it’s just as arbitrary a distinction) this isn’t about getting richer, it’s about earning a crust, albeit doing what you love. Plus unless every athlete from every nation didn’t show would Putin actually give a f**k anyway? He’s just trying to sure up support amongst conservatives back home after all. It’s also tricky to organise a boycott when many riders won’t know if they’ve qualified for sure until a few weeks before the games.

Far better to go there and drop some symbolic social media-sharing gesture of gay-loving on their asses such as:

a) Nail-painting with rainbows. As athletes did at the recent World Athletics Championships in Moscow as a show of solidarity. Good but is it subversive enough? [Photo by WAH nails]

b) Ring a ring of roses-style hand-holding. As the girls’ slopestyle riders recently did at the Winter Games NZ. Again awesome but is it enough?

c) Spending the two weeks same sex-smooching regardless of your usual gender preference. As these two Russian athletes (above) did at the World Athletics Championships. Sure they later denied their act was political saying they were both married but the picture still wins in our heads. And besides this idea sounds the most fun right!?

d) Or we could try and understand the haters, however freaky their worldviews might seem to us. I’ll call this the Kjersti Buaas response and it’s epicly zen. This extract comes from our cover interview for the next issue CL34 [on sale end of September, go buy here!].

If someone has an opinion about something we all want to jump in and say, “No that’s wrong!” But I find it really enhancing if I can slow myself down enough to not judge them so quickly.

I responded: “So you wouldn’t judge someone who was homophobic?

Yeah if someone is against something if I cannot judge them that’s the best thing to do. I’m not saying I am always able to do that and be the perfect example but I consciously practise it everyday at least to be aware of my own judgement and how I choose to spend my energy.

It’s an awesome attitude and I think it would be pretty effective in most life situations where you encounter bigotry, as in trying to understand where the person is coming from before you try to change their mind rather than just hating on them and giving them the chance to hate on you and your position some more.

But does trying to understand or in fact any of the symbolic gestures listed above help us when there are rumours of homophobic beatings being routinely ignored by the Russian police? There are also anti-gay laws now in Uganda, Jamaica, Iran, Tanzania and more so it’s a trend that obviously needs reversing and maybe it would take something as powerful as the Olympic movement to turn that train of darkness around.

It’s a tough one. What would you do if you won a place at the Winter Olympics? Is it up to the individual or the IOC? And what works better subversion or boycott? Tell us what you think below the line or on our facebook or twitter and we’ll round up the best comments early next week.

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