On 30 January, the Union Debating Society returned to Lower Parliament Hall to resume their weekly public debates. In light of the upcoming games, the UDS in conjunction with the Russian Society debated the motion “This House Would Boycott the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.”
This debate lacked the large number of expert guest debaters that typically speak at the House. Speaking for the proposition was the UDS’ inter-varsity secretary, Stephanie Ross, and co-chief whip, Parker Burns. On the other side of the house there was Kevin Ferrie, senior sports writer for Herald Scotland, and Max Voloshin, head of events for the Russian Society.
The proposition argued that the UK should boycott the Sochi Olympics because participating would condone Russia’s abhorrent treatment of their LGBTQ community and flagrant disregard for the principles of Olympism.
Ms Ross highlighted the increasing number of hate crimes being committed against homosexuals in Russia and the Russian government’s 2013 anti-gay laws. She argued that it is unacceptable for a European country to oppress around ten per cent of its population and that boycotting Sochi would embarrass Russia into treating the LGBTQ community better.
Mr Burns continued the proposition’s case by arguing that Russia is flagrantly violating the fundamental principles of Olympism. He stressed that Russia violated these principles by building Olympic venues on stolen land, draconically restricting protest at Sochi and not respecting the dignity of all athletes, especially LGBTQ ones.
Mr Ferrie responded for the opposition by asserting that no coun- try is morally perfect and therefore there would be no Olympics if we demanded host countries be flawless. He argued the UK should be hesitant to thrust its moral sensibilities onto other countries because it still has a problem with racism and other social issues.
Mr Voloshin closed the opposition’s case by arguing that the western media exaggerates the mistreatment of homosexuals in Russia and is unfairly critical of the country. He concluded that any boycott against Russia would just further alienate the Motherland, making it less tolerant to non-traditional sexual identities and generally conservative.
Overall, the inexperienced opposition speakers were not very persuasive. Luckily for them, most of the floor speakers supported the opposition.
In a floor speech, Charlotte Andrew drew an analogy between Germany’s treatment of black people in the 1930s and modern Russia’s treatment of homosexuals. She argued that Jesse Owens’ award-winning performance at the Berlin 1938 summer Olympics demonstrated that black people were as capable as any others. So similarly, LGBTQ athletes could fight for their equality by competing and winning at Sochi.
The motion overwhelmingly fell, with 80 in opposition, 15 in favour and 9 in abstention.
Tonight, Thursday 6 February, there will be a RAG Week debate on the motion “This House Believes Aid Does More Harm Than Good.” The debate will start at 8 pm in Lower Parliament Hall, following a port reception at 7:30 pm. As always, gowns are encouraged but not required.