The Olympics must be about sport alone: Stephen Fry should confront Putin in the theatre

Published by Daily Mail

Stephen Fry 2‘Hetero gentile @Adrian_Hilton thinks it’s ok to misrepresent @stephenfry as comparing Putin Russia to holocaust… Imagine being paid to smuther opposition to homophobia. We don’t need bigoted straight people telling us what to do thanks… kindly remove yourself from telling people who suffer an oppression you do not, to shut up about it.’

This was one of the more judgmental but eloquent rants I received from Stephen Fry’s Twitter hordes following my perfectly reasonable question as to why a ban on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics is an ‘essential’ response to Putin’s anti-gay legislation, but no such ban is warranted on the arts. Another of them helpfully advised: ‘Please go jump in a lake. I dare say you can swim, but it might just wash off the stench of smug self-righteousness.’ One of Fry’s more intelligent and articulate followers called me a ‘c**t biscuit t**t’, whatever one of those is.

I did prophesy a tsunami of derision and displeasure, and they didn’t disappoint. I am grateful to prominent gay-rights activists Benjamin Cohen, publisher of Pink News, and Tom French, Policy Coordinator of the Equality Network, who bothered to engage with the substance of my argument. Indeed, after a brief exchange of tweets, we reached a degree of accommodation: ‘Ok – fair play,’ tweeted Tom. ‘Sounds like a reasonable debate about tactics when it comes to securing equality & human rights.’ Rational debate is clearly possible; just not with self-identifying Freudian Marxists, rootless cosmopolitans and rabid anti-humanists.

Naturally I don’t blame Fry for the irrational prejudices and bigotries of his followers, but I do wish he and they had bothered to engage with the substance of the argument instead of swinging on tangents, distorting the plainest meaning or assuming that Andrew Pierce and I are of one commissioned and coerced Daily Mail mind on this. Tom Whitwell, Head of Digital at The Times and Sunday Times, appreciated the hypostatic division: ‘Feel a bit sorry for @Adrian_Hilton who wrote a good bit on Stephen Fry in the Mail,’ he tweeted. ‘It’s unfortunate because I would like to read @stephenfry’s reaction to (it).’

The thing is, of course, there will be no considered reply because there is no rationale to Fry’s campaign. He demands a ban on the Sochi Winter Olympics with as much casual indifference as David Beckham might encourage a boycott of Glyndebourne: it is easy to be negligent in the absence of liability.

Stephen Fry 3Having failed to secure his ‘essential’ ban on the Games, Stephen Fry is now asking Olympians to receive their medals either with their arms crossed over their chests, or with an extended bent wrist. There is certain effeminate levity here which goes beyond the encouragement to wear pink shorts or rainbow vests. Indeed, some may find it quite distasteful that he could be so flippant when young gay teenagers are being systematically hunted and humiliated and lesbians suffer ‘corrective rape’ by Putin’s thugs. If Andrew Pierce had dared suggest the limp-wrist gesture – even whimsically – I rather think we know how Grand Inquisitor Fry and his zealous disciples would have tortured and tormented the heretic.

The World Athletics Championships are happening in Moscow now, and gay athletes aren’t being harassed; lesbian spectators aren’t being rounded up and ‘disappeared’; bisexuals aren’t feeling the need to turn moments of sporting glory into jarring statements about sexual identity. Mo Farah is there doing his Mobot and Christine Ohuruogu is beaming her sunshine smile back to the UK as they sweep aside the Russians and sale into the record books. Why should the greatest of the athletic greats feel compelled to politicise their moment of glory by playing sporting silver to gay gold?

Indeed, you only have to see the frenzied reaction to Fry’s critics now to get a taste of what will happen in 2014: those athletes who dutifully cross their chests or bend their wrists will be hailed gay-friendly heroes; those who wave, smile, do mobots or thank God for their victory will be branded callous and spiritless bigots. The Games are being hijacked by gay-compassion fascism.

There is much more to be achieved for gay rights in Russia by engaging and participating in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games than by banning them. The UK participated fully in the Beijing Olympiad, and I feel sure that China’s dissident democrats and their sympathisers suffer fates rather worse at the hands of the People’s Liberation Army than gays and lesbians do under General Polizmeister Putin. At least being gay in Russia is no longer a crime.

It is also worth noting that the clampdown on gay propaganda and perceived proselytism among minors is not entirely new. It is true that the Duma passed further legislation as recently as June, but this is wholly consistent with the regional bans which have been promulgated across the Russian Federation over the past six or seven years. In the Ryazan Oblast (administrative district), for example, the ‘propaganda of homosexuality’ has been prohibited since 2006, without so much as a peep from Stephen Fry.

But the rainbow bandwagon is now rolling, and it is incumbent upon everyone to jump aboard. It is the progressive, enlightened, liberal thing to do.

And yet I am at a loss to know why gay bars all over London have banned Russian vodka while the Bolshoi Ballet are playing at the Royal Opera House, without an anti-Putin placard in sight. Why pour perfectly good Smirnoff into the gutter but leave Yuri Grigorovich’s magnificent production of Swan Lake completely unheckled? What has Stolichnaya vodka done that Tchaikovsky’s ballet hasn’t? Why target sales of Russian Standard but ignore Prince Siegfried’s love for Odette? Why risk the jobs of the hardworking Boris and Ivan in the Moscow Distillery Cristall, but leave Maria Alexandrova and Dmitry Gudanov to dance their thrilling pas de deux unmolested?

Don’t the Bolshoi Ballet and Orchestra bring rather more glory to Putin’s Russia than a few shots of vodka?

Like music and theatre, sporting participation can cut across the religious, political and ideological divisions which gnarl humanity and distort our vision. Like all art, sport can challenge where there is no settled view; it can heal hurt and transform protest. So here’s an offer to Stephen Fry: instead of seeking to ban the Sochi Games, coerce Olympians into trite gestures of solidarity, or deprive ordinary Russians of those glorious moments of ecstasy you experienced during London 2012, why not respect the fact the Russia is a new democracy; a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights; and a member of the Council of Europe? Why not acknowledge the fact that these laws have some popular appeal within an essentially socially conservative milieu? Why not let Olympians be a-political participants before an audience that is free to be relatively indifferent to your concerns or worldview?

Why not, instead, take a play over to Russia next year and confront Putin’s abuses with theatre? If he is a tyrant, hold a mirror up to his evil nature to show scorn her own image. If LGBT rights are to be advanced, orthodoxy reformed and culture transformed, let your dramatic gift show virtue her own feature.

Stephen, if you want to take a play to Moscow next year, I’m more than ready (qualified and connected) to assist.

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  • Dan

    So, so much is wrong with the substance of this piece, but it has a single virtue. It shows that sometimes excesses of paradiastolic redescription can work in favour of truth, against the intentions of the author: ‘gay-compassion fascism’ makes ‘fascism’ sound rather lovely.