The only active, openly-gay footballer in the world believes that a boycott is not the answer.
The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, based in Russia, have attracted an increasing amount of attention in recent weeks due to Russia’s rapidly escalating anti-gay laws.
The Russian court system recently upheld laws banning any form of gay or ‘non-traditional sexual orientation propaganda’. Open homosexuality is now punishable by imprisonment, as is educating its mere existence.
Due to the presence of the Winter Olympics in the southern city of Sochi, a serious and alarming civil rights issue now finds itself embroiled with sports, a difficult and inconvenient combination.
Many are calling for a complete boycott of the games. With the Olympics standing as a global symbol of unity, pride and brotherhood, it could be argued that such harsh discrimination of such a massive group warrants the strictest recourse possible.
On the other hand, there is Robbie Rogers.
The LA Galaxy winger made headlines the world over in February of 2013 when he became only the second ever active footballer to announce their homosexuality.
On Tuesday, Rogers wrote a personal opinion piece for USA Today expressing his thoughts on a boycott of the Russian Winter Olympics.
“I’m a former Olympian. I’ve got an image of the Olympic torch tattooed on my wrist. I’m gay.” says Rogers, “And if I were eligible to compete in the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I’d go with pride to represent the United States of America.”
Rogers argues that rather than simply not attending the games, gay athletes should go with pride and show what they are capable of. He compares the chance presented to gay athletes as similar to the situation Jesse Owens found himself in in 1936: “There’s historical precedent here. In 1936, when Berlin hosted the Summer Olympics, Hitler saw it as a chance to promote his views of racial purity to the world. Perhaps the most enduring image of those Olympics was the triumph of African-American sprinter Jesse Owens.
“Had the U.S. boycotted and Jesse Owens missed the event, an important historical teaching moment would have been lost.”
It’s an extremely valid point, and to hear it from one of the world’s most prominent gay sportsmen only increases its pertinence.
“Here’s what I would do if I could.” says Rogers, “I’d go. I’d make no secret of the fact I’m gay and I’d take every opportunity to let people know the truth about my life, which I’ve done since I came out this past February.
“And if I were a straight athlete, I’d go and take every opportunity to let people know that I support the rights of all people to live free from the threat of discrimination. After all, isn’t freedom an Olympic ideal?”
Rogers’ ideals are admirable, as is his optimism, however it could be argued that simply by attending the Sochi Games countries are showing an apathy, or even worse admitting defeat, in the face of what by modern first world standards is a clear violation of human rights.
Should the USA boycott it would not be for the first time. At the 1980 Summer Olympic Games, also being held in Russia, the USA refused to attend due to strained relations and the ongoing Cold war.
They were even joined in their boycott by 65 other nations, including Israel, Japan, West Germany, Canada and China. But, the Games still went ahead – and 33 years later it is merely a footnote in the history of the Games.
Should the USA initiate a boycott, the same indifference cannot be allowed to happen again. Plans must be made so that, when a stand is made for LGBT rights at Sochi, it is one that will go down in history.