Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Olympics Problem

Sorry for not posting yesterday, insanely busy. (I don't know how academics like PZ Myers and Brad DeLong do it every day.) Anyhow . . .

I am going to speak about a current difficult issue from the sagacious perspective of advanced age. Yes, V. Putin's new anti-gay law is a putrid, stinking excrescence. It is deeply galling to think that the winter Olympics will happen in Russia in a few months and give Czar Vladimir a chance to strut around on the world stage. Equally galling has been the tepid response of the IOC and for that matter the USOC, and yes, we do have to worry about participating athletes who might run afoul of the law and also any gay athletes who may feel threatened or forced to deny who they are for the duration.

However, a boycott of the Sochi games would be, in my view, a really bad idea. Jimmy Carter boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and here's what happened. Only a few countries went along, so the games happened anyway. Athletes who had spent the entirety of their young lives preparing for their single chance lost it. Americans were deprived of a spectacle many people look forward to -- the boycott was unpopular with the public and cost Carter politically. The Russians stayed in Afghanistan, if anything they dug in deeper. And the Soviet bloc turned around and boycotted the next Olympic games in the U.S.

Positive accomplishments? Zero. And we'd have exactly the same result this time.

Obviously, the IOC, USOC, and U.S. State Department have to make it absolutely clear that the law will not be enforced in Sochi for the duration of the time that international visitors are there for the games -- and that's at least a week before and after the opening and closing ceremonies. If the Russians can't make, and keep, that commitment, we can specify diplomatic and economic consequences.

Next, the Obama administration has to move this higher on its list of beefs with Czar Vlad. They should stop giving a fecal bolus about Mr. Snowden, which I know is not going to happen, but at least they can elevate this to the same level. It's not about meddling in Russia's internal affairs -- we can't do business in Russia under the circumstances, just as if they discriminated against African American businesspeople or diplomats. Putin needs to understand that we can't have a normal relationship under the circumstances.

But the Olympics are not the right lever to pull. IMHO.

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