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Media Bites: Boycott the Sochi Games? Nyet.

08/19/2013 12:22 EDT | Updated 10/19/2013 05:12 EDT

On Friday, the National Post editorial board issued their official opinion on that infamously homophobic law Russia passed last month -- the one banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors," whatever that means -- and contemplated what sort of vindictive action Canada should level against the country's upcoming Sochi Olympics in response.

The Post was a relative latecomer to this conversation; the Globe and Mail released their What to Do About Sochi editorial a full week ago, and the Toronto Star a week before that. Rare is the paper in this country, in fact, that has not published several Sochi op-eds by now.

But if media chatter on the morality of the Russian Olympics is as wide as the long jump, it's only as deep as the sand pit. Pundits use different metaphors and cite different historic precedents, but all basically reach the same bland conclusion: bad as Russian homophobia may be, we still shouldn't boycott their games.

Boycotts, declares the Globe "are rarely productive," so "the best way for athletes and others to protest will be to be attend the Games and ignore the law."

Agreed, says the Post. We should try to "make these Olympics as fabulous as possible" by getting "athletes and spectators (to) go to Sochi, compete, make whatever statements of support for the gay community they feel appropriate, and dare the authorities to make a stink about it."

Both papers similarly concur (in the Globe's words) that it's "extremely unlikely that Russian authorities will round up foreign athletes and sports officials who openly support gay rights in Sochi." So why not go nuts? Rainbow flag pins for all!

"History will remember those who showed up," stoically concludes columnist Celine Cooper in the Montreal Gazette.

Most of these Sochi editorials bear strong resemblance to the cautious statements issued by politicians and corporations when asked for similar comment -- concerned and empathetic sure, but also rational and pragmatic. Boycotts are usually ineffective. It is too late to change host cities. It would crush the spirit of our athletes to take their big moment away, etc.

Practical as such common-sense may be, however, it still reeks of leading from behind. And that's a challenging enough position at the best of times, let alone when you're trying to get the mob to reverse course.

The pro-boycotters, after all, have social media groupthink, online petitions, and celebs like Madonna, Lady GagaStephen Fry and George Takei in their corner -- not to mention fashionable victims and (somewhat ironically) a largely sympathetic media. That's an advantage even a dozen calm rebuttals in the Edmonton Journal can't counter.

My own view on the Russian situation is that it's pretty sheltered and myopic for everyone to be getting so exercised about President Putin's relatively mild (by third-world thug standards, at least) gay-bashing, considering the multitude of greater horrors his government is busily inflicting upon Russians of all sexualities, as well as innocents abroad. I also thought Barbara Kay made a good point the other day on the Ezra Levant show that once you legitimize the premise of barring countries from the Olympics on the basis of their discriminatory domestic policies, it's hard to know where to stop.

Unless you keep politics out of the games entirely, she said, you're eventually going to have to "acknowledge the pain and suffering of every single group that comes up and says 'well, you boycotted the Olympics for the gays, why aren't you doing it for the Uighurs, why aren't you doing it for the Christians who are persecuted in the Middle East?'"

Indeed, it's hard to think of an Olympic member state -- host or participant -- that doesn't have something in their closet that could become a boycott-worthy human rights abuse if we squint hard enough.

For instance, aside from Canada itself, none of the last five Olympic host nations recognized gay marriage at the time of their games (Britain does now, but they didn't in 2012). Nor, for that matter, do most competitors. Perhaps that's not quite on par with Putin's homophobia, but it's certainly offensive by 2013 Canuck standards. Make those standards universal, however, and you'll be lucky to get enough athletes for the three-legged race.

But again, that's just more nuance. And nuance comes off as cold and equivocating in this populist age of ours; an era where social media encourages us to react to current events through snappy, showy and increasingly ritualized demonstrations of outrage, particularly on those three issues everyone wants to look enlightened on: race, gender and sexuality. The result's been a preponderance of zero-tolerance judgements and calls for zero-sum justice; a culture where opinions are shaped far more by blunt tools like petitions and hashtags than fussy junk like newspaper editorials and press releases.

At their core, the Olympics have always been based on an impossibly utopian, if not outright absurd premise: that the nations of the world can and should be able to put aside their differences -- their vast, profound, politico-ethno-religious differences that define the very core of their identities, and conceptions of human dignity -- and engage, every two years, in a little light track and field.

What we seem to be witnessing right now is that polite, centuries-old consensus -- already tested by the Nazis, Cold War, and Chinese Communists -- pushed to the breaking point. Basically by Twitter and George Takei.

We could probably stand to pick these host cities a bit more carefully.

Gay Rights In Russia