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Remembering Jesse Owens at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics in the shadow of Russia's homophobic laws

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Plans to boycott Sochi Olympics due to Russia's laws against gay community
Plans to boycott Sochi Olympics due to Russia's laws against gay community

I can't remember at what age he told me, but I remember vividly my father telling me the story of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He told me of Hitler's thoughts on his inherent inability, about his refusal to shake his hand, and how Owens thoroughly sickened him by destroying the competition.

My memory of being told that story was pushed to the front of my mind this week, with Stephen Fry's open letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee President. He drew on Jesse's story and how it applies to the situation unfolding for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. Vladimir Putin's full-on homophobic legislative assault, apart from being inherently malevolent, is causing a fundamental clash with the Olympic spirit. Pressure and publicity is piling up, but to no avail.

This isn't going to be a long blogpost, because it doesn't need to be. I don't need to explain how wrong it is that in this day and age, laws precluding a gay person's right to be are being so brutally curtailed. I shouldn't have to. There are very few cases in life that don't occupy at least one shade of grey, but this is one of them. It's just wrong. An absolute wrong.

Jesse Owens is an inspiration not just for his athletic achievement, but for his defiance and grace. But he should never have been put in the position he was put in. Hitler should never have been allowed to curate the Olympic flame. Neither should Putin. Because if he won't bow to diplomatic pressure, or common sense, or just some common humanity, maybe the economic humiliation of having a world event removed from him will do the trick. It doesn't matter if the athletes won't be affected, or whatever sort of loophole tries to be spun, a statement should be made that anywhere in the world where people are treated like this, the global community will not tolerate it. The Olympic spirit is all-inclusive, all-encompassing, all-encouraging. The Games should reflect and embody that completely, and since that can't happen in Sochi as it stands, it should go somewhere else. Anything else would be wrong. Just wrong.

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