My column in The Kerryman. 25 September, 2013
Being from Kerry, the closest I’ve ever gotten to the Winter Olympics is watching Cool Runnings. This is a film about the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the 1988 Olympics in Canada. Based on a true story, the idea was still so farfetched it was written as a comedy. I now have a vague idea about how the sport of bobsledding works. That has been my entire Winter Olympics experience. Unfortunately I now have to add a place called Sochi to my tiny bank of Winter Olympics knowledge.
Sochi is the Russian town that’ll be hosting the 2014 Olympics. Something I need never have known until the Russian government decided to make the lives of its gay citizens that bit more scary and dangerous. It recently passed a law, to the glee of conservative Christians and neo-nazis, thats bans ‘gay propaganda.’ What does that mean? It means gay people are now officially second class citizens in Russia. It means gay couples with children must flee the country or risk losing their children. It means gay people who protest about this law will lose their jobs and be beaten up. Then they’ll probably be arrested.
The country that is hosting the Olympics (ok the Winter Olympics) doesn’t even allow gay people demonstrate on its streets. Not that we should be surprised by the International Olympic Committee’s behaviour. They did after all give the Summer Games to Hitler in 1936.
But why should we care? A gay couple still cannot safely walk, hand in hand, down a street in Tralee. Our laws still don’t treat gay people as equals and gay people still endure above average levels of mental ill-health due to their precarious place in society. How can we look down our noises on the Russians in that case? At least gay people do not face the death penalty here or in Russia as they do in many Middle Eastern and African countries. Things could be a lot worse in Russia, indeed they could be a lot worse here.
This is true. Things could be a lot worse, but our species is better than that. We feel empathy. I don’t know if we evolved as social animals because we feel empathy or that we evolved to feel empathy because we are social animals, but I do know that most of us can’t help feeling a pang of something, when we witness suffering. Many of us can’t even cope with seeing animals in pain. That is our nature, though we are also very good at deliberately not seeing the nastiness that surrounds us. And we are very good at claiming to be helpless. Sure what can we in Kerry do about the vicious treatment of gay people in Russia? Haven’t we enough to be getting on with ourselves?
We do have a lot to be dealing with in Kerry, but few of us are so badly stuck we can’t send a letter saying we don’t agree with people having to live in fear, just because of their sexuality. Write that down and send it to Ambassador Maxim Peshkov, 184-186 Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin 14 and to The Olympic Council of Ireland, Olympic House, Harbour Road, Howth, Co. Dublin. A boycott of the Olympics may not be appropriate, but expressing dissatisfaction most certainly is.