2014 Winter Olympic Games: should Britain boycott? Vote now

A demonstrator in Moscow holds a poster showing Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev overlayed with the Olympic rings in barbed wire. Image: AP Photo, Ivan Sekretarev

The 2014 Winter Olympic Games will take place in the Russian city of Sochi from 7 to 23 February 2014. They will be followed a month later by the Winter Paralympics, from 7 to16 March.

During the past few months a growing number of campaigners have urged countries to boycott both events in protest at Russia's anti-gay laws. 

But other groups, including an organisation representing LGBT people in Russia, are opposed to a boycott, and have instead asked athletes to use the occasion to highlight homophobia and human rights abuses.

MSN wants to hear what you think Britain should do about the Games.

In the first of a new series of high-profile surveys of public opinion, we'll be putting the results of our poll to someone in a position of authority be they in government, business, a charity, or someone with direct influence on how the UK is run. We'll hear what they have to say about your opinions and what, if anything, they intend to do about it.

Have your say

What action should British athletes take at the 2014 Winter Olympics to protest against Russia's anti-gay laws?

28846 responses

  1. None at all: politics has no place in sport

    68%
  2. British politicians, not athletes, should make an official protest to the Russian government

    16%
  3. Athletes should hold peaceful protests to raise awareness of gay rights

    6%
  4. Athletes should stage marches and demonstrations, and if necessary be arrested

    1%
  5. Britain should boycott the Games entirely

    9%

Winter Olympics boycott: the background

In June 2013 the Russian lower house of parliament passed a law banning "homosexual propaganda", and introduced fines for anyone organising gay pride events or giving information about LGBT issues to those under 18.

The European parliament passed a resolution condemning the law. Michael Cashman, the British Labour MEP said: "Hate speech from Putin and others had resulted in the barbaric killing of gay men. This is unacceptable and uncivilised." Homophobic attacks in Russia have risen in recent months, with some being linked to neo-Nazi groups.

Meanwhile Russian president Vladimir Putin has said he would back a ban on foreign same-sex couples adopting Russian children, while a Russian MP has reportedly called for the marines to have the right to whip gay people in public.

Boycott: the case for

In early August the actor and writer Stephen Fry published an open letter to the International Olympic Committee and UK prime minister David Cameron, calling for an "absolute ban" on the Winter Games and comparing them to the 1936 Berlin Olympics staged by the Nazi party.

Stephen Fry, centre, and Peter Tatchell, left, speak to demonstrators on Whitehall, London, during a protest against Russia's anti-gay laws. Image: Anthony Devlin, PA Wire

Stephen Fry (centre) and Peter Tatchell (left) speak to demonstrators on Whitehall, London, during a protest against Russia's anti-gay laws. Image: Anthony Devlin, PA Wire

Fry accused Vladimir Putin of "making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it."

David Cameron replied on Twitter, saying: "I share your deep concern about the abuse of gay people in Russia. However, I believe we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Olympics."

BNP leader Nick Griffin also tweeted Stephen Fry, saying: "Some people and nations just favour traditional values  get over it!"

An e-petition on the UK government website calling for a boycott has attracted over 12,000 signatures, while a growing number of bar chains in the UK and the US have stopped selling Russian vodka.

At a recent demonstration outside parliament in central London, organiser Eddie Jardine said the prime minister did not seem to understand what gay people are saying. He added: "Unless Cameron has a plan on how he will lobby on the inside, this could just give credence to other countries with poor human rights for gay people."

"If all GB athletes wore rainbow flags and Cameron turned up to the Kremlin with a rainbow tie, then that would be great," said demonstrator Anna Grigoryeva, a Cambridge student from Moscow. "But they're not going to."

The US president Barack Obama has also spoken out  though stopped short of supporting a boycott. "I think they [Putin and Russia] understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently," he told Jay Leno on NBC's The Tonight Show.

Boycott: the case against

The Russian LGBT Network has said that a boycott would "risk transform[ing] the powerful potential of the Games in a less powerful gesture that would prevent the rest of the world from joining LGBT people, their families and allies in Russia in solidarity and taking a firm stance against the disgraceful human rights record in this country.

“Participation and attendance of the Games in Sochi will not indicate endorsement of injustice and discrimination; they will only if they are silent.

"We hope to join forces and succeed in raising everyone's voices for LGBT equality in Russia and elsewhere."

The Russian LGBT Network statement ended with the message: "Do not boycott the Olympics  boycott homophobia! Stand in solidarity with people in Russia."

In addition, there does not appear to be widespread support for a boycott among the sporting community.

British athletes hoping to participate in the Games will also be doing so having put in years of training, many at great personal expense due to the relative lack of funding for certain winter sports

Claire Balding. Image: John Walton, Empics Sport

Claire Balding. Image: John Walton, Empics Sport

The gay former Olympic diver Greg Louganis has said a boycott would be counter-productive, while gay US ice-skater Johnny Weir told the BBC's Today programme that he was looking forward to competing in the Games.

"I don't want to miss out on the opportunity," Weir said. "To help the local LGBT community our presence is needed. We need to be there, on the ground, supporting them on their home turf, rather than sitting on the other side of the ocean boycotting Russian vodka."

The sports presenter Clare Balding will present up to 100 hours of programming from Russia during the Winter Olympics. She said she would not be boycotting because "the best way of enlightening societies that are not as open-minded as our own is not to be cowed into submission. I intend to stand proud, do my homework and do my job as well as I possibly can  as I would for any other sporting event."

Where things currently stand

The International Olympic Committee has said it is waiting for more clarification from the Russian government on how the anti-gay law would affect the Sochi Games. "The Olympic charter is clear," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "A sport is a human right and it should be available to all, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation."

Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko insisted that athletes would "have to respect the laws of the country" during the Games. But he added that, beyond the law, Russia has "a constitution that guarantees to all citizens rights for the private life and privacy."

His comments came two days after it emerged a gay teenager who was kidnapped and tortured by Russian neo-Nazis had reportedly died from his injuries.

Have your say

What action should British athletes take at the 2014 Winter Olympics to protest against Russia's anti-gay laws?

28846 responses

  1. None at all: politics has no place in sport

    68%
  2. British politicians, not athletes, should make an official protest to the Russian government

    16%
  3. Athletes should hold peaceful protests to raise awareness of gay rights

    6%
  4. Athletes should stage marches and demonstrations, and if necessary be arrested

    1%
  5. Britain should boycott the Games entirely

    9%