Sports
Dawn Muenchrath/the Gauntlet

Sochi participation not worth the price

NHL stars should put human rights ahead of Olympic glory

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Sidney Crosby shouldn’t be going to the Olympics.

Do I have your attention?

The ramp up to the Sochi 2014 men’s hockey tournament began in earnest at the end of August with Hockey Canada’s orientation camp held in Calgary, Alberta.

Many of the best Canadian hockey players gathered for three days of familiarization with the Hockey Canada regime. Crosby was, of course, one of the players invited. He is one of the top-5 skaters in the world by pretty much any measure ­— from rudimentary counting stats to the advanced statistics to the eyeball tests, Crosby is every bit the star Canadian fans regard him as. He is likely Canada’s best centre, and most certainly a key component to winning another gold medal in Sochi. And that is precisely why he should refrain from donning the maple leaf come February.

Look at what has transpired in Russia over the last calendar year. The Russian government has seen fit to put a law on the books that is pernicious to LGBTQA people and detrimental to the notion of human equality. This law bans “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations around minors. The current Russian position is that foreign national LGBTQA people, as well as foreign people perceived as being “pro-LGBTQA” can be arrested and detained for up to 15 days before being deported during the Olympics.

It’s a fucking ridiculous law that is an affront to human dignity, in addition to other fundamental values like freedom of expression, association and diversity. But hey, why do we care? Russia is free to enact whatever laws it wants, right? None of our business over here in Canada.

Uh, no.

If you stand for human rights — and you should — then the fight doesn’t respect squiggly lines drawn on a map. Folks are equal wherever you go, and should be treated as such. The Olympics, in its own way, supposedly embodies that ideal.

The Olympics are about many things, but at its core it is about the Olympic movement — contributing to a peaceful and better world through sport.

The International Olympic Committee, per their website, is the supreme authority on the Olympic movement. The IOC abides by its constitution, the Olympic Charter, which sets out seven Fundamental Principles of Olympism. Among those seven fundamental principles, the following points are articulated:

“The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

I’m a hockey fan — I have Flames season tickets, worship Peter Maher and spend every Christmas break watching dudes 10 years my junior battle for amateur supremacy. I cursed Zach Parise and his star spangled heroics with 25 seconds left in the gold medal game, and celebrated like I had won the lottery when the Iginla-to-Crosby “Golden Goal” gave Canada its last medal of the 2010 Olympics. But I’m also a guy capable of putting things in perspective, and so I have to ask, if you were to create a hierarchy of importance, what would you place first: human rights or a shot at a hunk of gold pounded into a circle and awarded by an institution that doesn’t respect equality, let alone it’s own constitutional document?

Here’s a simple premise: all humans are equal, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender expression. This premise isn’t up for debate. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights says so, as does the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The winter Olympics are being held in a country that has enacted a law that is clearly in violation of basic human rights. The organization which administers the Olympics says that it’s committed to human dignity and a world without discrimination, by its own organizing document. Canada has committed itself to the idea of equality in its constitutional bill of rights.

And yet we are prepared to send a team to play in Russia in the name of winning a medal that signifies . . . what exactly? That we are the best at putting vulcanized rubber in a six-by-four net at one end of an ice rink, and keeping it out at the other end? What is actually at stake?

A player like Crosby can make a difference. Hockey Canada isn’t going to pull out on its own, but serious discourse will happen if the best hockey player on the planet and one of the most recognizable Canadians in the world uses his star power to put the issue square in the spotlight. Discourse is the first step towards change.

Crosby was the hero in Vancouver in 2010. He can be a hero on a different and far more important stage if he champions human rights instead of Olympic gold in Sochi 2014. He should stand for human rights and not play for Team Canada unless Russia strikes its abhorrent law from the books.

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