Former NBA player John Amaechi: ‘The Winter Olympics shouldn’t even be in Russia’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Retired basketball star John Amaechi has told Gaydio the 2014 Winter Olympics “shouldn’t even be in Russia” – but that a boycott of the Games isn’t practical as it would hurt the athletes.

Appearing on Gaydio’s Chris and Emma at Breakfast, the campaigner and sports broadcaster was asked if he supported Stephen Fry’s call for the Games to be banned in Sochi because of Russia’s anti-gay laws. 

Amaechi replied: “Asking for a boycott is a very principled thing to do. I am with Stephen in that the sentiment is absolutely correct – I just don’t think it’s practical – and I want to be clear…it’s a sad thing that it’s not practical because it means that people with great power have somehow lost sight of their lofty principles.

“It should be practical because if you look at the Olympic Charter and the seven principles of Olympianism which speak of things like human dignity; which speak of things like not allowing discrimination for any reason – if you look at those principles the Olympics shouldn’t even be in Russia in the first place.”

Asked if a boycott wouldn’t be practical as not enough countries would take part, Amaechi replied: “Yeah. It would be piecemeal. You would find that individual athletes would be punished by their federations and governing bodies. I don’t think people are aware of the contracts that athletes sign with Olympic organisations and even with individual sporting governing bodies.”

Mentioning UK Olympic competitors, Amaechi said: “They have signed a contract that dictates you should not make any overt political statements – and even though I don’t think standing up for human dignity is an overt political statement – governing bodies would certainly view it that way.”

But Amaechi then offered the following advice to athletes looking to show solidarity with Russia’s LGBT community: “Despite what I just said about some of the contractual issues, I think there’s no point in being a person of great power, there’s no point in being a person who can command microphones of journalists and media outlets across the world if you are not going to stand up for the important things.

“Do we really want to be in a position where athletes only ever stand up to sell their shoes? Or sell their clothing line? Or sell their appearances?

“It should be for things that are important.

“So I do think athletes should be on Twitter speaking to their audience about this.”

Amaechi feared that otherwise Russia’s LGBT community and other victims of state oppression in the country may not realise the rest of the world cares.

John Amaechi came out as gay three years after retiring as a professional NBA player in 2007.

Commenting on the decision of NBA player Jason Collins to come out publicly as gay in April, Amaechi said at the time that British football still had a long way to go in accepting gay players.