Amy Williams: Sochi Olympics boycott over anti-gay laws would not help

This article is more than 7 years old
• 'Boycotting doesn't work … the athletes are staying out of it'
• Russia assures IOC new law will not affect athletes at Sochi
Amy Williams
Amy Williams, who retired in 2012 after winning skeleton gold at Vancouver, says 'as far as I know … boycotting does not work'. Photograph: Ali Jennings/PA
Amy Williams, who retired in 2012 after winning skeleton gold at Vancouver, says 'as far as I know … boycotting does not work'. Photograph: Ali Jennings/PA
Thu 22 Aug 2013 12.00 EDT

The Olympic skeleton champion, Amy Williams, does not believe that boycotting the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi would be an effective way of challenging Russia's controversial anti-gay laws.

There have been a number of calls to boycott next year's Olympics in the Black Sea resort. The broadcaster Stephen Fry wrote an open letter to the International Olympic Committee and David Cameron urging action against Russia and accusing Vladimir Putin of "making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews".

The prime minister and Lord Coe, chairman of the BOA, have since confirmed Britain would not boycott the Games and said anti-gay prejudice is better tackled by participation rather than absence.

Williams has echoed those sentiments and the athlete, who is an ambassador for Team GB 2014 after retiring last year because of injury, claimed previous boycotts have not worked.

"As far as I know from the statistics, boycotting does not work," said Williams. "I did hear that boycotting in the past has proven to never work, it doesn't solve an issue.

"The athletes are staying out of it. They've worked their whole lives for an Olympic Games and, if things happen outside of your bubble, you let the right people deal with it and comment on it.

"You're focusing on your performance. Highlight the issue in other ways, through political leaders."

The new laws in Russia, passed by the Duma, prohibit propaganda in support of "non-traditional" sexual orientation. They also threaten heavy fines for anyone promoting homosexuality to under-18s.

Sochi will host a major sporting event for the first time next year and staging the Winter Olympics in the city will cost an estimated £35bn, the most expensive in history.

The 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow were boycotted by a number of countries including the United States following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, with the Soviet Union then boycotting the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

In his open letter, Fry said: "The summer Olympics of 2012 were one of the most glorious moments of my life and the life of my country. For there to be a Russian Winter Olympics would stain the movement forever and wipe away any of that glory."

Williams, who will be a pundit for the BBC during the Sochi Games, argued that just because athletes decided not to boycott the Games it did not mean they were ignoring the issue.

"For the athletes, it's a shame that it's happening," she said. "Of course, it will be there in the background. It's not that the athletes are ignoring the issue, disagreeing or not disagreeing. The athletes are just working away, doing what they're doing."

On Thursday, Russia assured the IOC the anti-gay propaganda law will not affect the athletes and spectators at the Sochi Olympics. The IOC asked for clarifications regarding the law earlier this month.

"We have today received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the Games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation," the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, said in a statement.