4 Reasons We Were Right Not to Boycott the Olympics
The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are on their way to becoming the most corrupt of all time. And considering how corrupt the games usually are, that's like winning an Olympic gold medal in ... Olympic corruption. Then there are the infamous anti-gay laws Russia recently enacted, leading many people to call for boycotting the games altogether. And while it was a tempting idea, it would have been the wrong decision. Here's why.
It Gives Us a Chance to Beat the Bad Guys
If the U.S. had boycotted the 1936 Games (and we almost did), they would be remembered as the Olympics where the Nazis won everything. Germany benefited from the host country bump and managed to walk away with an impressive 101 medals, 38 of them gold. But the U.S. came second, getting 24 golds and 57 medals overall, thanks in large part to the decidedly not-Teutonic runner Jesse Owens.
And his three clones.
If we hadn't shown up, every one of those medals would have been up for grabs. If all the countries that threatened to boycott had followed through (Sweden, Great Britain, France, Czechoslovakia [ask your parents], and the Netherlands), the Nazis would have had a shot at a whopping 137 additional medals.
Let's say that, theoretically, Germany had won every single one of those boycotted medals. Then the only Olympic Games that featured the Nazis, a self-proclaimed superior race of people, would be in the Guinness Book of World Records today as second on the list of countries to win the most Olympic medals in a single games. Hitler would have been able to use that utter domination to his advantage, and the Nazis would be remembered as, at the very least, being quite good at sports. But because we showed up, the narrative was about the Nazis losing to a black man. Jesse Owens showing up in Berlin and kicking some Aryan ass is a lot better than Jesse Owens sitting at home being oppressed in his own country and never making the history books.
Here's a "Jewish stereotype" beating the blond Germans. Because we were the tolerant ones.
And just in case you think that theoretical medal onslaught would never have happened, the current second place country is the USSR, which won 195 medals in the 1980 Summer Games, also known as the Olympics that half of the world boycotted, allowing the Soviets to win absolutely everything. America had the chance to show up and turn those games into a real-life version of Rocky IV, only for every sport there is, and we blew it.
Speaking of the 1980 Games, American athletes are still suffering from our decision not to compete. Rule changes made at the 1980 Olympics that wouldn't have passed if America had been there are hurting our athletes to this day. Just because some countries didn't show up, it didn't stop the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from conducting business as usual at the games. And one of their decisions was that each country could only enter two swimmers in any given event (events involving pools, that is; there was never a point where you could enter swimmers in the fencing competition).
Suddenly the number of competitors a country could enter dropped by one, meaning no country would ever be able to sweep the medals in swimming again. This was most likely directed at the U.S. specifically. Michael Phelps wasn't a fluke; America has always been really, really good at swimming. Before 1980, we had swept the medals in 12 different events over the three previous Olympics. And if we had bothered to show up at the 1980 Olympics, we would still be doing it today.
It's Not a Badass Statement; It's a Boring Tradition
The people asking for a boycott of the Olympics did so because they believed that, by not attending, we would really show those homophobic Russians what's what. It is completely unacceptable to open-minded individuals like us that anyone would stereotype gay people as pedophiles, especially those vodka-drinking, fur hat-wearing, borscht-eating commies. And if America doesn't show up to your two-week snow and spandex party, how will it ever be a success? People only boycott something as big as the Olympics when they have a really important reason to, like trying to end the Cold War.
Or demanding more condoms in the Olympic Village.
Except boycotting the Olympics is far more likely to get a response of "Ugh, again? OK, get in line," from the IOC. Boycotting the games is almost as great a tradition as the games themselves. Virtually every Olympics has had a boycott or a serious threat of a boycott from at least one country or group of athletes. It's actually less common for no one to have a problem with the games. And it didn't take long for athletes to get savvy to the idea that not showing up would make a statement to the world that they were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
"You just try to hold your fortnight of sport without our rock and brooms."
While there is evidence of boycotts in the ancient Greek Olympics, things really started heating up during the modern era. The IOC managed to hold three whole Olympics before anyone boycotted. But then at the fourth official games, held in London in 1908, the Irish refused to show up. At the time, they were under British rule and wanted to draw attention to the fact that the "luck of the Irish" was the most cruelly ironic statement ever thought up. After that, countries or individual athletes boycotted the 1936 and 1956 games, followed by every single Olympics between 1960 and 1992. Boycotts were seriously threatened in 2008 due to China's human rights violations. India almost stayed away from London in 2012 over a chemical spill that happened in 1984. So boycotting the Sochi Games would have been less of a dramatic statement that would have changed history and more of a boring return to form.
There Is Absolutely No Point
But if people just cannot stop boycotting the games, it must be effective, right? Wrong. As far as I can tell, no real policy change has ever been enacted due to boycotting or threatening to boycott the Olympics. No host country has ever broken down and seen the error of its ways just because some foreigners refused to show up and beat them at sports.
For example, if we had followed through on our threats not to go to Beijing in 2008, would China have changed a single thing about their approach to human rights, or would the iPad you're reading this on still be soaked in the blood of virtual slave labor?
You do not get percussion synchronicity like that from a laissez-faire government.
Even though the Irish invented boycotting the Olympics, they didn't achieve any sort of home rule for another 14 years. Hitler still went on to be Hitler, regardless of the fact that Jewish athletes boycotted the 1936 Berlin Games. Even when 62 countries boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Russia, it had little to no effect on Cold War policies. Anita DeFrantz, who would have been on the women's rowing team had we gone to Moscow, was interviewed in 1996 and said:
"It was a pointless exercise and a shameful part of U.S. history. I asked one of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, whom they had called on to talk to us athletes, if he could tell me truthfully whether it would save one life -- and he couldn't."
In other words, even the people who decided on the boycott for political reasons didn't think it was going to make even the tiniest difference in either safety or policy in the USSR. Then the communist countries just turned around and boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in tit-for-tat tantrums that did nothing but make everyone involved look like children.
Freakishly strong children.
The Soviet Union didn't dissolve until the end of 1991, 11 years after the biggest boycott in Olympics history. If the games had any effect on the collapse of the USSR, no one in the U.S. or Russian government ever said anything about it.
It's Much More Effective to Be Passive-Aggressive
By boycotting, countries send a message that there are two sides to a serious political issue. If anything, you legitimize your opponent's opinion by acknowledging that it is the opposite of yours. When the West boycotted the 1980 Olympics, all we succeeded in doing was driving the wedge deeper between democratic countries and communist countries and making almost every country in the world actively pick a side. In Sochi's case, had America chosen to boycott, they would have been forcing the countries that showed up to implicitly state that they were OK with oppressing gay people, while any country that didn't want to send that message would have no choice but to not attend. Suddenly the world would be divided along rainbow flag lines.
The equator is still in the closet.
That's why attending is the best thing we could possibly do. By showing up and poking fun at the host country, we prove that there is only one correct side to this argument, and those of us on the right side of history are going to spend the next two weeks making anti-gay Russia look like a whiny kid who is afraid of cooties.
It started when President Obama, who attended the London Olympics two years ago along with the first lady, announced that he wouldn't be going to Sochi. And just in case that wasn't an obvious enough snub, the American delegation he handpicked to go in his place was made up of two openly gay athletes (Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow) and figure skater Brian Boitano. But within days of being appointed, Boitano announced that he too was gay. Despite keeping his private life private for 50 years, he came out to the world just so there was no doubt that the entire U.S. Olympic delegation was gay, and it was absolutely done on purpose. It's hard to imagine how someone could give a larger middle finger to homophobia. It's also hard to imagine Russia having the balls to arrest the American delegation, meaning they can show up and say pretty much whatever they want to about gay rights.
Then the Germans premiered their Olympic athlete outfits. Since these uniforms are always terrible, no one was expecting much. What they weren't expecting, though, was a gay pride flag.
Despite not including a purple strip, Twitter and most news organizations immediately jumped on the look as another snub to anti-gay Russia. The designer denied that it was meant to be a symbol of support for the gay community, but it's important to note that he had to say that; admitting it outright would make it a political symbol, which is specifically not allowed in the Olympics. And regardless of what the original intention was, everyone now sees the uniforms as supporting gay rights.
And it doesn't stop there. Officials are already encouraging people to sneak pro-gay banners into stadiums, a Russian athlete who won't even be competing in the Olympics had to apologize for freaking out about a competitor's rainbow nail polish, and countries are openly donating money to Russian gay rights campaigners. Had we stayed at home, all we could do is get angry while Russia won a lot of medals. By attending, we can make the games a fuck-you to discrimination.
Plus, have you seen the thighs on those bobsledders?
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