First, let me confess that I love the Olympics. I’ve loved them since my vague memories of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the last Olympics to be held in Russia. The real Olympic fever set in during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles (ah, those dashing Red, White and Blue stars!). I collected the cups, saw the torch run through my town, and because our main competition, the then Soviet Union, returned the favor and boycotted our Olympics, US athletes won a ridiculous number of medals.
Because of all of this bad sportsmanship, I grew up thinking that not only are the Olympics an essentially American thing (that Sarajevo thing was a blip), but that we were amazingly awesome at them. Look at all of our medals! I wanted to be a gymnast and bask in that glory myself. That dream was short-lived since I had neither the flexibility nor the natural talent to even do a backbend much less flip and fly like Mary Lou Retton.
My love of the Olympics continued. When the Seoul Olympics ended, I actually cried. Calgary bobsledding! I’ll admit during my cranky late teenage years, I let the 1992 Olympics slide (except that amazingly epic lighting of the torch by flaming arrow at Barcelona. The world still tips its hat, España). More recently, the Beijing Olympics gave me a much needed distraction during my recovery from a serious illness.
But I’m not watching the Sochi Olympics because the organizers are stepping on two matters that, well, matter to me. The first is their controversial approach to homosexuality. The news has blown up about this over the lead-up to the Olympics and some people have called for another boycott. Now, boycotting something that is meant to bring the world together is, I think, an inappropriate response. If an individual athlete does not want to compete, that is his or her prerogative. That is not a decision that needs to be made from the top. In fact, the best approach to such things is to go and annoy the host country by acting in a manner that undermines their draconian laws. Google is demonstrating how to do this.
The second matter is their approach to animal control. Russian cities are home to many feral dogs (the ones in Moscow commute to work!), I suppose because the cultural infrastructure is not such that puts excessive resources toward government-run animal shelters or humane population control measures, such as Trap-Neuter-Return programs. Rather than expend any effort during the past several years (Sochi was awarded the Olympics in 2007, so they had some warning) toward dealing with these animals gently and over time. Instead, city officials have ordered mass poisonings for these dogs.
Lastly is the matter of the planned display of two orca whales, captured as juveniles in the wild, as entertainment at the Olympic Games. Russia regularly captures wild cetaceans and delivers them into captivity around the world. This plan, apparently, has been changed or cancelled, perhaps due to outrage/bad press or perhaps due to further planning woes. No wild cetacean should live in permanent captivity (rehabilitative captivity is often required for injured individuals) and it is just one more reason to eschew these “Games”.
Given these matters, I’m not watching the Sochi Olympics. This is a personal decision. The IOC made the (I think bad) decision to award the games to Sochi despite the infrastructure for the Games not being in place (and reports coming in from Twitter suggest that it still isn’t) and officials there seem to be intent on making a stream of boneheaded decisions. I am just one person, but the Olympics is a huge source of advertising revenue and general kerfuffle. By not taking part in that, I’ve lessened the impact of the Games, if only by one-eight-billionth.
However, this isn’t a boycott, it’s a decision, in the same way I make the decision not to watch a certain movie or television show or musical concert. No, the argument that I need to “support the athletes” is invalid. They don’t need my support. Most of them are reasonably wealthy and furthermore they are having the time of their lives and competing on the world stage. I doubt they are excessively concerned with who’s watching on television. After all, the Games are older than television itself, so I’m sure they’ll manage.
I’m not expecting anyone to join me in this, but I also don’t need to give my attention to something I think is unworthy of it. Hopefully, Rio de Janeiro will deliver.