I like Stephen Fry. He is the sort of Englishman I wish we had more of, but in calling for an "absolute ban" of the Winter Olympics in Sochi he is just plain wrong. In comparing Putin to Hitler he is using the sort of sensationalist rhetoric more expected from the loons of the Tea Party. It is not what I would expect for someone who is normally so considered in his choice of words. Indeed it is the etiquette of every reasoned internet debate that he who first uses the Nazi comparison has lost the argument by default.
Fry accuses Putin "of making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews." Yet homosexuality is not illegal in Russia. The law in Russia is in effect the same as Section 28 which we had in Britain and was only repealed less than ten years ago. I'm not saying that life is at all easy for gay Russians, I have heard first hand from gay Russian friends it is not, and we should be rightly concerned for the safety and welfare of targeted group regardless of race, religion, or sexuality. However, we are not seeing Russia's homosexuals rounded up, put on to trains, and sent in their millions to be gassed. And if the response to that is "not yet" then I suggest your response is not just an over-reaction, but a sign of inherent racism towards the people of Russia.
The West needs to be careful that it is not responding with the kind of vilification of Russia which was so prevalent during the cold war. The calls for boycotting the Sochi Olympics reminds me of 1980 when Britain thankfully didn't follow America's example of refusing to go to Moscow. As Seb Coe rightly pointed out boycotts only hurt the athletes. Do athletes and athletics fans, small business owners and workers deserve to be punished because of a law brought about by their government? I don't remember getting a vote on half of the actions of my own government.
If we are to start boycotting sporting events for political reasons where does it stop? One of the alternatives Fry gives for Sochi is Salt Lake City, Utah - a State where it is still illegal for gays to marry.
Did we call for Delhi to be stripped of the Commonwealth Games because of the rising number of acid attacks in India? Do we refuse to play Pakistan in cricket because of honour killings? China hosted the Olympics despite having at best a chequered human rights record. The truth is that sporting boycotts and bans do not work. South Africa did not end apartheid because the Springboks weren't allowed to play international rugby.
Fry points to the Berlin games of 1936 as "a stain on the Five Rings" and that it "provided a stage for a gleeful Führer." Yet 77 years on we know these games more for the brilliance of Jesse Owens who brought about the complete humiliation of the Nazi Aryan ideals.
I worked for broadcasting arm of the organising committee for the Sydney Olympics. If anything turning the spotlight on Australia helped expedite a long overdue healing of the relationship between the country and its indigenous people. It's all too easy to criticise the Olympic movement, but despite all the commercialism and cronyism I still maintain it is a force for good. It is a place where people from all nations come together as one. The volunteers of London showed how it can fuel friendliness, and for a brief moment it was capable of doing amazing things like getting Londoners to talk to each other on the tube.
Gay groups in Russia have already spoken out about how they are against any international boycott of the Games. The greater danger is always when we turn our backs and isolate countries. Sochi hosting the Games is not a vindication of Putin's laws, in the same way awarding the games to London was not a vindication for the Blair government, or even Boris Johnson.
The Olympics are for the people. All the people.