Abrahamson's "open letter" has some serious logical flaws. This response from "Ollie" in the article's comments section presents a much more reasoned assessment of the situation:
Cut and Pasted:
Hi Alan. Really interesting and well-written. I find it hard to agree with much of it. To begin with, it feels a little weird to argue for *more* politicians at an Olympic Games on the grounds that “nations are supposed to give politics a rest”. Were that truly the case, wouldn’t we be in the happy situation of having a Games utterly bereft of politicians? Isn’t, therefore, the US stance a sizeable step toward the outcome you’re hoping for? (Whether or not the US means it to be.)
Now there’s some inherent naivety in there – not always a bad thing – so let’s leave that to one side.
It also sounds somewhat as though you’d rather the US primed the IOC for its 2024 bid than took a stand on the issue of gay rights. Which to my mind would be a disappointing, fairly saddening set of priorities but I can understand how people could get there. I’m not sure many US athletes will particularly care about whether the president is sitting next to them or not at the opening ceremony – in fact, if they think he’s not there because their nation is standing up for human rights, I reckon many athletes will probably be fairly chuffed about that. It’s difficult to envisage most of the athletes I’ve ever spoken to even stopping to think about it for long. Again, if we don’t want politics at the Games, then not having current or former presidents hanging around the athletes on live global TV for the sake of being seen to hang around athletes seems like step one.
I can’t say I’m hugely convinced by the part where you mention the situation in various US states. Worrying about whether Russia will like it or not (an entire country liking something or otherwise of course being a mammoth generalisation – I imagine it’ll give a modicum of hope to a lot of LGBT Russians, for starters) seems reasonably irrelevant. No doubt the US wouldn’t like it at all if a country made a sustained protest against the death penalty. But I’m also sure there’s some sort of amendment somewhere, usually invoked with a guttural roar around this point in most US-based comments, that enshrines the right for folk to say what they think. The fact that the US isn’t yet agreed on gay rights is worth noting, agreed, but if the US were to wait for the entire nation to come to accord over an issue before taking action, then the nation might as well cease to exist. Imagine if that were the approach to foreign affairs. Moreover, we’re talking not-yet-agreed-on-gay-rights in the US versus active oppression in many parts of Russia that US states couldn’t come near to replicating even if they tried (harder than they are doing).
As regards the comment about Francois Hollande, I know it’s an insular US stereotype and your tongue was heading cheekward, but let’s at least be grateful for a president that probably *doesn’t* worry about that kind of thing, and with any luck couldn’t care less about grandstanding to Americans about the French as though we weren’t all actually living in the 21st Century.
Ultimately, I think my issue is that in asking Obama to take politics out of his stand, you’re really asking him to engage in more politics: the politics of the Games, of making friends at the IOC, of shaking hands and smiling alongside athletes, of saying and doing The Right Thing in order for the US to be welcomed back to the Olympic high table for many years to come (and maybe pick up a few more medals in judged sports?). It’s all politics, it’s just different politics.
I suppose it’s up to the individual to decide which of the above politics you’d rather have. I prefer the bit about human rights to the bit where IOC members got annoyed by security delays, and I long for a sporting environment where the former matters more than the latter. I’m not kidding myself that we’re remotely near reaching that point, nor am I so naive as to believe that sport will ever be free of politics at every last corner. But every small step is a good’un, perhaps even at the cost of short-term difficulties like a figure skating judge giving Meryl Davis and Charlie White some grief, or not hosting an Olympics for a little while.
Certainly a provocative and interesting letter to read, though. Thanks for publishing it and hopefully see you in Sochi.