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The up-coming Sochi Winter Olympics is undoubtedly the most controversial event in recent sporting history. Russia’s stance on gay rights is well-known and a blatant abuse of human rights. However, I don’t think boycotting it would actually help.

As you all (hopefully) know, Russia is frighteningly homophobic. Since current-president Vladimir Putin came into power, the country has introduced a variety of anti-gay laws that have seen members of the LGBT community increasingly marginalised in Russian society.

As it currently stands gay marriage and civil unions are illegal, homosexual couples are not allowed to adopt and homophobic attacks are an almost daily occurrence. Putin actually went on air and openly compared gays to pedophiles.

As you can imagine, choosing this country to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world has upset a lot of people and there’s been many calling for an outright boycott of the Sochi Olympics.

While I agree that Russia’s complete disregard for basic human rights deserves our full condemnation, I don’t believe an outright boycott of the Olympics is the best way to go about it.

My first concern here is for the athletes involved. For the vast majority of athletes attending the Olympics this year, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They’ve been training their whole lives for this moment and endured sacrifices that would boggle anyone’s mind.

As former Canadian Olympic swimmer and LGBT activist Mark Tewksbury said in an interview with Global News, “The athletes would pay the price, not the host country [if a boycott took place].”

Finally, I believe a boycott would have a minimal impact on a country where homophobia is a deeply entrenched social norm.

Don’t forget, one of the reasons for these laws is to prevent “moral corruption by Western influence”. So simply stepping out isn’t going to be enough. Rather, I believe the best thing to do is to use Sochi to our advantage.

Susan G. Cole writes in NOW Magazine:  “…with close to a billion people watching the Olympics’ opening ceremonies – an estimated 900 million had their TVs on for the launch of the Games in China – and hundreds of millions more tuning in to marquee events like the 100-metre and 1,500-metre races, gay rights activists have the chance to get unprecedented visibility.”

Sochi offers LGBT activists an amazing chance to promote equality to an unprecedented amount of people across the world. Played right, they could have a bigger impact than they ever could have achieved if they simply refused to attend.

What do you think? Should other countries boycott Russia this year? Take the poll below.

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