July 24, 2013

I’ve never been to Russia. I’ve never been to prison. I’ve never been to a Russian prison. But as many commentators have noted recently, were I to step foot in Sochi for the 2014 Olympics, I could be arrested and sent to prison for publicly supporting the idea that gay athletes should be free to compete without harassment, punishment, or intimidation — more simply, because I’m “pro-gay.” It is against the law to be “pro-gay” in Russia. It’s a corollary to the laws against being openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

In light of that, as well as a litany of human rights abuses against the LGBT community that go far beyond locker room intimidation, many groups are calling for an international boycott of the Olympic Games. At the You Can Play Project, we believe that sports can change the world. And for that reason, we are staunchly against the idea of a boycott.

First and foremost, let’s be clear about one thing: The simplest argument against a boycott is that it will not work. Those clinging to the notion that Russia could ever be shamed into changing their ways should recognize who, exactly, they are dealing with. Many who are supporting the idea seem to presume that a boycott would lead to some sort of change; there is absolutely no reason to believe that to be true. I admit, I have no doubt the LGBT community in Russia would be touched and inspired by the gesture. That, I imagine, would fade when no laws were changed, no prisoners were freed, no violence halted.