Letters: Let’s fly the rainbow flag in Russia


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The Independent Online

Jacques Rogge, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is in large part missing the point in his strong statements about the possible “persecution of athletes” attending the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The draconian anti-gay legislation in Russia concerns primarily LGBT Russians who have to live each day under these iniquitous laws.

I acknowledge that his first concern must be for the athletes – and in that case, what alternatives are open to him? If he truly believes that a boycott would be an extreme measure – a disaster and a disappointment for the athletes – there are two options.

The first is to transfer the games to another resort in a country where human rights are respected. Indeed, if President Obama were to suggest Colorado, that would be an excellent retaliation in what appears to be a new cold war, as well as an expression of the US’s disgust at Russia’s new laws.

It would also be an excellent opportunity for the President to give a concrete expression of his support for the LGBT community. If that is deemed too extreme a measure, the IOC should insist that every single participating athlete, gay or not, wears a very visible rainbow armband.

Darryl Seibel’s statement on behalf of the British Olympic Association that it is a “more powerful statement to go and compete than not” is valid only if the participation of athletes is accompanied by a demonstration of their support and solidarity with gays worldwide.

Dr Michael B Johnson, Brighton

This time last year we learned all about the problems with next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.

A troupe of Circassian dancers graced our carnival and explained that there had been environmental degradation, restrictions on movement, other infringements of civil liberties, and an overweening disregard for the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus.

The choice of the site of the massacre of Circassians 150 years ago for major construction work is politically calculated, and the crackdown on civil liberties is harsh.

The crass homophobia of Putin’s regime is reason enough to question the validity of this edition of the five-ring circus.

But there are other equally serious attacks on the rights and liberties of minorities in Russia, specifically those who live around Sochi, that should also engage us.

Mary Pimm and Nik Wood, London E9

David Cameron and Sebastian Coe think that a boycott of the Winter Olympics wouldn’t achieve anything.

Margaret Thatcher thought that about boycotting South Africa, but it worked eventually. What the Russian government is doing to gays is no different to apartheid in South Africa.

Robert Pallister, Sydney, Australia

Food bank need fuelled by benefits misuse

In your report “Summer of hunger: huge rise in food bank use” (10 August), the Trussell Trust can only say that this increase is “anecdotally” to do with recent welfare reforms.

Even if this is the case, one still needs to question why so many parents cannot feed their children without the need to go to a charity food bank.

Welfare benefits to those with children, in or out of work, are today much higher in real terms than they were even just a few years ago.

We now give an unemployed childless couple £112.55 a week plus housing costs. A similar couple with two children get £261.19 and housing costs – more is given to support the children (£148.64) than for the needs of the adults themselves.

Even in work, a single-earner couple with two children on just £18,000 get around £147 per week in child benefit and child tax credit.

Children are more likely to be at real risk of food poverty in households where they are not getting the full advantage of child benefit/tax credit payments.

This may be where the parents have excessive expenditure on inessentials, or where they have loans taken out which they cannot afford to pay back without “borrowing” the payments they receive for their children.

It is these issues of ensuring that state benefits paid for children are actually spent on them, and that they are not  instead absorbed into general household outgoings, that charities and Government should be addressing.

Paul Ashton, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex

The need for food banks in a nation promised prosperity is not only disgraceful but an indication of deceit and contempt for those requiring them.

Their main purpose, of course, is to ensure that people who are struggling get to eat, but let them also be a reminder of (and protest against) the failure of our Government.

How many of those donating food to charities such as the Trussell Trust will vote for the Coalition next time?

Emilie Lamplough, Trowbridge, Wiltshire

While food banks undoubtedly alleviate hardship and suffering for those left destitute, by their own admission they are often only a sticking plaster; and this Victorian form of welfare is stigmatising due to its conditionality and discretionary nature.

We may be sleepwalking towards an American form of welfare based on food stamps and soup kitchens. George Osborne can then pat himself on the back and exclaim: “Mission accomplished.”

Richard Bridge, York

£22,500 bag must have been a joke

It is understandable that the interpretation of the incident in which a shop assistant (presumably white) is reported to have suggested that a very expensive crocodile-skin handbag would be too expensive for Oprah Winfrey has been interpreted as an instance of racism (“So what was it about Oprah...?”, 10 August).

Perhaps, however, there is an alternative, and much more charitable, interpretation. Is it not conceivable that the shop assistant, quoted as stating “No, you don’t want to see that one... because that one will cost too much” was expressing disdain for the fact  her employer was prepared to pander to the minute and spoilt proportion of the world’s population that might be induced into perversely spending £22,500 for a handbag?

Perhaps it was displayed at that vulgar price as a rather poor joke, albeit at the expense of the huge number of the world’s inhabitants who cannot conceive of such an amount of money.

The shop assistant might have been embarrassed at her employer’s joke and credited Miss Winfrey with the intelligence to recognise the price as a joke – and Miss Winfrey as a person likely to share her opinion.

Sidney Alford, Corsham, Wiltshire

Shooting animals reduces suffering

If people are unwilling to accept that eating meat causes death, they shouldn’t eat it (letters 10 August). Additionally, for non-meat-eaters to enjoy their lifestyle, animals must be culled to protect crops from damage.

But what would all these activists who sit behind screens in London know about countryside and rural life?

I enjoy shooting. It’s fun and provides game which is otherwise unavailable in our shops, also ridding the crops of unwanted pests.

I take great care in making sure my shots are accurate, and kill on impact to avoid unnecessary stress and suffering.

How can taking a plentiful species in a respectful manner for the table be anything less than responsible? Shooting is a culturally important part of British life and brings in over £1bn a year to the rural economy. City-dwellers, educate yourself and take note.

A Tunstall, Windsor

Victory for pointed humour

While amused to see Dave Brown’s riff on Stanfield’s painting HMS The Victory Bearing the Body of Nelson Towed into Gibraltar after the Battle of Trafalgar  (Rogues’ Gallery, 10 August), I fear it may not be well-known enough for most people to realise it showed that ship dismasted and disabled after confronting the Spanish in 1805 – but perhaps that underscores his point.

The spectacular original, at Somerleyton Hall since it was painted in 1853, will shortly make a rare London appearance in our Turner and the Sea show at Greenwich (from 22 November).

Pieter van der Merwe, General Editor, National Maritime Museum, London SE10

Death and choice

I have no fear of death but dying is another matter (letters, 5 August). In my 80th year and suffering the painful effects of pulmonary fibrosis, in addition to other ailments, I long for the relief death will bring me but lack the guts or the means to achieve this end.

Is it not in society’s interest to set up a process to allow sane adults to decide for themselves when enough is enough?

Robert Redman, Oxford

Drop the charges

The argument that patient charges are nothing new because we already pay to see the dentist only highlights how wrong the situation is with regard to NHS dentistry. I “accept” the charges, but do not like them, and would much rather there were parity by there being no fee to see a doctor or dentist.

Owen Ralph, Manchester

Honourable MPs?

While watching Parliament on TV, I was at a loss to understand who the speakers were referring to. They kept saying “the Honourable Gentleman” or “the Honourable Lady”. Do they think we could take these terms seriously after seeing with what contempt most of them treat the general public?

Dave Croucher, Doncaster

Choc ice doubt

Barbara MacArthur (letter, 9 August) asks whether her occasional choc ice consumption might improve her memory. If the reason for the lack of memory-enhancing cocoa in her larder is that she keeps forgetting to buy it, I would suspect not.

Linda Skilton, Forest Row, East Sussex