The revelations of massive torture, starvation and executions by the regime of Bashar al-Assad should reawaken everyone to the horror faced by the Syrian people. For three years now the world has watched helplessly as protests were repressed, neighbourhoods flattened, villagers massacred and populations gassed. As the armed opposition has become increasingly divided, some of it dominated by Islamists, Assad has regained some control and a gruesome war appears hopelessly stalemated. The United Nations has been incapable of meaningful intervention, Barack Obama’s plan for demonstrative missile-strikes following a chemical-weapons attack was shelved, and the Geneva talks that opened on 22 January 2014 appear to be going nowhere. Above all, people around the world who have viewed Syria’s fate with horror have found no effective means of influencing the appalling conflict.
Until now. At the very heart of Assad’s position lies the support of Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation. And in fifteen days’ time, on 7 February, the winter Olympics begin at Sochi on the Black Sea. Putin has been ruthlessly clearing the decks of all possible causes of international embarrassment. The dissident magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been freed, as have Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina of Pussy Riot. Greenpeace's "Arctic 30" were allowed home. Putin even seems to have suggested, in a typically insulting way, that gays will be left alone during Olympics. He wants no politics spoiling his international media show.
A simple message
There are many reasons to boycott Sochi and quite a few people are already doing so. But no reasons are as important as Syria. How can we, citizens of European and other countries, celebrate the agile bodies of Olympic athletes when so many Syrian bodies lie tortured, emaciated and mangled at the hands of Assad? Let us say to Putin that until he removes all political, military and economic support for the Syrian regime, and until he calls for Assad’s resignation and his referral to the International Criminal Court, we will have nothing to do with Russia’s Olympics.
This is a unique opportunity for millions of people around the world to put Putin on the spot and force him to abandon Assad. This is a challenge for the athletes and sporting organisations, but not just for them. Spectators should not go to Sochi. Sports writers should not write about Sochi without writing about Syria. Publics should not just switch over their TVs but boycott public facilities showing Olympic events. On every day of the sixteen days of the Olympics, Russian embassies around the world should be surrounded by protests. People should demand that their governments boycott the Olympics unless Putin changes his position.
A simple message. Assad must go - to The Hague. The regime must fall. Putin must help make this happen. And soon. Only then can the UN, together with the various sections of the Syrian opposition and representatives of the different Syrian communities, begin to put in place a plan to end the war and enable the millions of refugees to go home. We have a duty to do what we can, now, to stop this war, whatever the cost to sport.
Putin = Assad. Sochi = Syria. Putin must tell Assad to go, and let the UN Security Council send his case to the International Criminal Court. No change on Syria, no winter Olympics.
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