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Open Letter to Lord Coe

Why we must boycott the Sochi Olympics

Lord Sebastian Coe by Mohan per Doha Stadium Plus from Qatar


Lord Coe
British Olympic Association
60 Charlotte Street


5th September 2013

Dear Lord Coe


As a British gay Jew whose family were all but wiped out in the holocaust, I know more than most what it is like to be part of a minority and the true meaning of persecution. What is going on in Russia at the moment is the thin edge of the wedge and people of influence such as yourself have a moral duty to act in such a way appropriate to your standing.


Your reported comments in Moscow in August stating that the only people who would be 'harmed' as the result of a boycott is athletes and that a boycott is a 'ludicrous proposition' horrified me and belittles the hero status you have earned in the eyes of the British people. The Russian LGBT community is being harmed now and will continue to be harmed if we do not boycott the games. Why do you believe that athletes’ needs have more worth than those of the LGBT community in Russia? Their suffering cannot be eased if we do attend the games. We need to send a clear message to the Russian people that their new laws and behaviour are unacceptable. Words alone have not and will not achieve this.


The Olympics is just one competition for these athletes. If they do not take part it will not be the end of their lives, they will not have to look over their shoulders every day wondering if they will get attacked, they will not risk being imprisoned purely for talking openly about who they are, being lured on a date by neo-Nazis and then humiliated and beaten up, being ‘correctively’ raped or sodomised with beer bottles resulting in their deaths. But this is the everyday reality of Russian LGBT people, their families and their friends following the new laws passed in June. 


The IOC’s announcement in August that athletes may be punished if they contravene rule 50.3 of the Olympic charter which states that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas" also just goes to show how bigoted and hypocritical the IOC is and is further fuel to support a boycott. Why would the IOC punish an athlete for demonstrating their support of the LGBT community, when they do not punish athletes for 'crossing' themselves before and/or after a race, or for wearing a visible cross on a chain? Why is this acceptable, when it clearly contravenes that same rule, but wearing anything that shows support for the LGBT community may be punishable?


It was also reported that you said that you believed that sport could be a catalyst for social change, giving the example of your own attendance at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 that the US boycotted. You reportedly followed this by saying that 10 years later, it achieved this social change. 10 whole years!  Are you really sentencing the Russian LGBT community to 10 years of suffering to justify attending the games? Yelena Isinbayeva’s astonishing comments describing homosexuals as not normal or ordinary and homosexual out of choice, just further goes to show that this social change needs to happen now. I don’t know what is more worrying – her opinions or the fact that she is an Olympic Ambassador, she clearly couldn’t be less suitable for that role.


If Great Britain led the way in boycotting the games, it would demonstrate to the Russian regime and their people that their policies and behaviours are unacceptable in the eyes of the world and would put pressure on them to change now, not in 10 years’ time. We have a rare opportunity to really show Russia the error of its ways – don’t waste it, please. Once the Olympics are gone, what will be left to use other than rhetoric?


Finally, the question you need to ask yourself is why you would want to go to Russia at all unless you are in support of this regime and its inhuman policies.  Would you have gone to the 1936 Olympics if you had been alive and competing then? Does competition blind you to the harm your attendance could do in the message it will send out?  Would you go to Syria, Zimbabwe, North Korea just because there was a competition there? Just how blinkered are you? As you well know, hosting the Olympics is an enormous honour; it brings the world's attention to your country, together with kudos, revenues and justification. The propaganda value in the wrong hands is huge, as Hitler demonstrated after 1936.


Lord Coe, you are in a unique position to make a difference. Sport and politics have been linked since the inception of the ancient Olympics. Don't hide behind one now and ignore the other.


As history and common sense have shown, we need to stand up to bullies. Attending the Olympics will just play into President Putin's hands. Therefore I appeal to you to do the right thing and support a boycott of the games. Russia no longer deserves them in the true spirit of the Olympic movement. Be remembered for being brave not for being a coward.


I and thousands of others urge you to support a boycott and do the right thing.


Yours sincerely



Dan Steiner

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