Stay away from Sochi

by Jim Longworth

There are a number of things that I really dislike. Among them: religious zealots, homophobes, violence, and the Olympics.

Strangely enough, they could all intersect next month in Sochi. Not so strange is that Russia is once again in the middle of a growing Olympic controversy. More on that in a moment, but first, some historical perspective.

In 1956, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland all boycotted the Summer Olympics as a way of protesting Russia’s invasion of Hungary. Hungary, however, decided to compete, and when that nation faced off against Russia in a water polo event, violence broke out both in and around the water.

In 1980, the games were held in Moscow, but President Jimmy Carter refused to let our Olympians compete because Russia had invaded Afghanistan. Then, in 1984, the Ruskies invoked what’s known as the “tit for tat” rule, and boycotted the Summer games which were held in Los Angeles. The official reason given for Russia’s pull out was inadequate security to protect their athletes while on the left coast. In truth, it was just the Communists’ way of paying back America for Carter’s boycott four years earlier.

And now here it is, 30 years later, and once again the Russians are causing trouble just prior to another Olympics.

Next month’s games in Sochi have generated controversy for a number of reasons. First, there’s the threat of violence from terrorists. Recent suicide bombings in Volograd killed 34 people, and now, Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov is urging his disciples to attack the Olympics. It is Umarov who described the Sochi games as, “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors.”

OK, so this guy is a nut and a religious zealot, but he’s a zealot with soldiers and bombs, and that’s reason enough for American Olympians to stay home next month.

Second is the controversy over Vladimir Putin’s war on homosexuals. There is an official government ban in effect on any so-called gay propaganda, which means just about anyone who speaks or distributes pro-gay messages can be jailed. But Putin’s ban isn’t born out of a narrow view by a select few politicos.

In fact, there exists in Russia today a free rein of gay bashing, including recent comments by noted actor Ivan Okhlobystin, who, according to The Hollywood Reporter, said, “I would have them (gays) all stuffed alive in an oven.” He also said, “I don’t want my children thinking that being a faggot is normal.” It’s no wonder that anti-gay violence is on the rise in Russia.

And so there you have it. Chechen terrorists and homophobic Russians are independently poised to hurt or kill people in Sochi for one reason or another.

If ever there was a good reason for America to boycott an Olympics, this is it. Yet what does our President do? He decides to send a contingent of notable gay American athletes to Russia to represent us in the opening and closing ceremonies. Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, a number of American athletes are planning to wear symbols that protest Russia’s treatment of gays.

To date, President Obama has made no formal request of Russia to repeal its gay ban. Instead, he is offering up our athletes, both gay and straight, as cannon fodder for terrorists, zealots and homophobes. Hey Mr. President, the Olympic ceremonies are in Russia, not San Francisco, and Sochi is no place to stage an erstwhile gay pride parade.

Sure, I hate the Olympics, but I also hate terrorists, zealots, and homophobes, and Sochi is a ripe staging area for those idiots to do a lot of damage. Mr. President, you’ve already announced that neither you nor Vice President Biden will attend the games, so I urge you to order our athletes to stay home as well. I know you’re still pissed at Putin for granting temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, but for God’s sake, let’s not use that as an unofficial excuse for rubbing the Russians’ face in our western tolerances.

Some will say there is a precedent for Obama’s not so subtle defiance of a foreign leader. After all, we did stuff Jesse Owens down Hitler’s throat at the 1936 Olympics. But that was an entirely different circumstance, a different venue, and a different era. First, the scope of Hitler’s monstrous deeds and his plans for world-wide domination were not yet fully known. And second, American athletes, though disliked by the Fuhrer, were completely safe in Berlin. There’s no way Hitler would have allowed unauthorized violence to erupt during the games.

Not so in Sochi, where neither Putin nor the IOC can fully protect our athletes given the culture of hate that exists in that region.

Personally I could care less about the Olympics, but I do care about preventing violence wherever and whenever possible. Sadly, the only way to keep our Olympic athletes safe is to keep them home. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).