Winter Olympic boycott not the answer to Russian gay rights abuse, says PM

David Cameron tells Stephen Fry the Sochi Games provide a chance to challenge Vladimir Putin

The Prime Minister has rejected a plea from the broadcaster Stephen Fry to boycott the Winter Olympics in Russia in protest over its treatment of gay people, claiming that "we can better challenge prejudice" by attending the event.

David Cameron responded to Fry's Twitter appeal for the Games to be moved from Sochi yesterday morning. The TV star had previously told him "an absolute ban" on the Games was "essential".

In a return tweet, Mr Cameron said: "I share your deep concern about the abuse of gay people in Russia. However, I believe we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Olympics."

His comments follow mounting pressure to strip Russia of its right to hold the Games, as it is feared that openly gay sportspeople, onlookers, journalists and visiting campaigners could be arrested under new legislation.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister and the International Olympic Committee earlier this week, Fry compared holding the Games in President Vladimir Putin's Russia with the decision to hold the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. He criticised Mr Putin for "making scapegoats of gay people" and said he "cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world".

Fry responded to Mr Cameron's tweet yesterday afternoon. He wrote: "PM, you may be right. Would that have been true in 1936? But is there nothing we can DO? Putin grows and grows in confidence."

The TV star joined more than 1,000 protesters in Whitehall, central London, yesterday afternoon to demonstrate against Russia's new anti-gay laws. He told onlookers it was a "grim" time to be gay in Russia, drawing particular attention to "the number of people committing suicide" and "the corrective rape of teenage girls that goes completely unchallenged by the police".

He added: "Putin and his toxic mixture of shaven-headed neo-Nazis" and the "newly powerful Orthodox church" have decided that gay people are "uncitizens".

Stephen Fry at yesterday's protest Stephen Fry at yesterday's protest (Jason Alden)  

Campaigners, including gay Russian exiles, blasted Mr Cameron for being a "coward" and refusing to boycott the Games, saying it was "the only leverage" they had left.

Many were also sceptical about Mr Cameron's plan to lobby from within Russia. "If all GB athletes wore rainbow flags and Cameron turned up to the Kremlin with a rainbow tie, then that would be great," said Anna Grigoryeva, 24, a Cambridge student from Moscow. "But they're not going to."

The organiser of the demonstration, Eddie Jardine, 42, said the Prime Minister did not seem to understand what gay people are saying. He added: "Unless Cameron has a plan on how he will lobby on the inside, this could just give credence to other countries with poor human rights for gay people."

But the sports commentator Clare Balding, one of Britain's best-known gay figures, will present up to 100 hours of programming from Russia during the Olympics. She said she would not be boycotting because "the best way of enlightening societies that are not as open-minded as our own is not to be cowed into submission".

She added: "I intend to stand proud, do my homework and do my job as well as I possibly can – as I would for any other sporting event."

Lord Coe, the British Olympic Association's chairman, who as an athlete ignored a government request not to attend the 1980 Moscow summer Games, still disapproves of boycotts. "International sport is not an inhibitor of social change. It has strong catalytic effects. It is an issue that needs to be addressed but the issue is not one of a boycott," he said.

The head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, said he was awaiting further clarification from the Russian government about whether its laws – which criminalise the promotion of non-heterosexual relationships, would apply to those taking part in Sochi next year. "The Olympic charter is clear," he said. "A sport is a human right and it should be available to all, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy