VANCOUVER – A petition to move the 2014 Olympic Winter Games from Sochi, Russia to 2010 host city Vancouver has topped 116,000, thanks in large part to one prominent supporter.
Star Trek actor and gay rights advocate George Takei is among those who have signed the Sochi: Winter of Hate petition, calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to pull the Games from Russia because of anti-gay legislation.
While some people and groups have called for an outright boycott of the Games next February, Takei wants a solution that respects the athletes and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community.
“A boycott is being greatly unfair to the athletes. They’ve been training for years,” the 76-year-old actor said in a phone interview with Global News. “By boycotting you’re preventing them from competing.
“What we need to do is move [the Olympics] out of Russia and place it where they can participate… in a safe place.”
Listen to the Global‘s full interview with George Takei
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Thursday critics of the new law needed to “calm down.”
Despite saying the law, which bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” would be enforced during the Games, Mutko now says the rights of athletes and sports organizations “will be protected.”
The law, passed in June, allows Russian police to fine, detain for up to 14 days and expel tourists and foreign nationals suspected of being gay or disseminating pro-gay “propaganda.”
“The Draconian laws that have been passed by [President Vladimir] Putin … essentially gives free licence to the hooligans and the thugs to assault people they might deem to be gay or lesbian,” Takei said. “We cannot expose our athletes and their supporters, who might be gay or lesbian, to that kind of environment.”
As for Mutko’s statements, Takei has “absolutely no faith” that thugs or police would respect the rights of LGBT visitors during the Olympics.
“When [the hooligans] are assaulting people that they see as gay or lesbians, the police look the other way. And when they do act, they pepper spray not the hooligans but the gay and lesbian victims of their violence.”
He said the world shouldn’t be rewarding Russia for its “horrific” mistreatment of LGBT people.
Takei drew comparisons to the hosting of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.
“Because the IOC provided that international stage for Adolf Hitler, more or less validating and lifting up his stature, and certainly gaining power in Germany, the horror of the Holocaust happened.”
He said allowing Russia to continue as the host of the upcoming Games would provide the same validation for Russia. “We’ve got to learn from history.”
Takei and the 116,000-plus people who have signed the petition aren’t alone in their condemnation of the Russian government’s position on LGBT rights.
Just last month, Amnesty International expressed “its grave concern over the persistent and ongoing attack of the Russian authorities against the rights of LGBT people.”
Meanwhile, organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have called on the IOC to urge Russia to reverse the discriminatory laws.
“As you are aware, the first Olympic Pride House was created for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It offered information regarding homophobia in sports and a recreational meeting place for LGBT athletes during the Games,” HRW’s LGBT Rights Advocacy Director Boris O. Dittrich wrote in a letter to the IOC in June.
Canadian Olympic Committee spokesperson Jane Almeida referred all queries to the IOC. A request for an interview with the IOC was not answered.
Is Vancouver ready for an Olympic reboot?
When questioned about the possibility of the Olympics actually being relocated on such short notice, Takei acknowledged “the clock is ticking.”
But, he said, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“If it can’t be done within the time that we have, then postpone it for another year so that the venue can be prepared,” Takei said.
He pointed out that the Olympics are planned so far in advanced – host countries are announced seven years prior to the opening of the Games – in order to construct the required facilities.
“In Vancouver, the venues exist and they’re in working condition,” he said.
The odds of Vancouver actually being able to accommodate another Winter Games are very slim.
“It’s not just like cleaning up the guest room and putting on a clean sheet,” Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs told Global News on Wednesday.
Many of the facilities constructed for the 2010 Games have since been re-purposed, he explained.
The condominiums in Olympic Village have since been sold and are occupied by thousands of residents.
The Olympic Curling Venue is now the Hillcrest Community Centre. Venues like the Richmond Oval and Rogers Arena are also already booked for events and programs six months from now, when the Winter Games are set to get underway.
The Olympics have only been relocated twice in the history of the modern Games.
In 1976, Innsbruck, Austria held the Winter Games for the second time in eight years after selected host city Denver had to relinquish itself of its hosting duties.
But, that was with four years notice.
In 1972, voters in a Colorado referendum rejected funding for the Games.
Incidentally, Vancouver was one of the three cities that Denver beat out to host the Olympics. The IOC offered the Games to Whistler in 1972, but Canada said no.
Prior to that, the 1908 Summer Olympics were moved from Rome to London after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius two years earlier forced the Italian government to dedicate funds to the reconstruction of Naples.
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