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Topics In the News
John Amaechi Calls on Olympians: "Don't Abdicate Responsibility"
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/12/13
Last updated on: 08/12/13
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In an open letter addressed to Olympic competitors and officials, former NBA player John Amaechi, who in 2011 was named an Officer of the British Empire (OBE), has called on them to speak out against injustice in Sochi, reminding them that "it is your responsibility--as much as the quest for gold--to show the world that you understand that sport, especially Olympic sport, IS intrinsically political."

In the letter, published on Amaechi's personal blog, the former athlete says that he is distressed that some of the Olympians "seem to have missed the point of your larger responsibility and embarrassed that some of your sports federations and governing bodies have been complicit in facilitating you abdicating your larger responsibilities to the world beyond sport."

He says that "Reasonable people can argue whether your 'job' is to win medals, to ski, skate, shoot and whatever else you do better than anyone else in the world. But as a former athlete myself, I know that what we do in practice and competition is only one small part of of our job. Many of you are icons in your respective sports, inspirational to a generation of young people who hang on your every tweet, ape your every action and follow your every suggestion."

Hence, he insists, "It is your responsibility as you prepare to go to Sochi to publicly acknowledge that your games happen on the backs of the abuse of migrant workers, the threatening of environmental activists and journalists, the 'disappearance' of [$30 billion] and indeed, in the context of a country that is facilitating and then ignoring the torture of young gay boys and girls."

Referring to the recent calls by, among others, Harvey Fierstein and Stephen Fry, for a boycott of the Winter Games or to relocate them to a country that respects human rights, Amaechi says "I understand the logical, principled stand behind a call for a boycott, but I see it as impractical, politically untenable and if attempted, at best, piecemeal. I have also spoken to several key Russian activists who want the games to go ahead so that the athletes can compete, win and most importantly when they take those podiums--stand for something more than their personal and national glory."

He urges athletes to use the Olympic podium "as a soap box and in the 21st century the ways you can do that are wonderfully creative and varied, but don't fool yourself into thinking, as one athlete I spoke to today, that winning in silence will show your support, that act is an abdication of the most important role any athlete can aspire to have--that of multidimensional exemplar to the world of sport and beyond."

Amaechi observes that had the Olympic charter been observed in the first place, Sochi would never have been awarded the Winter Games.

Amaechi retired from the NBA in 2007. Following his retirement, he earned a Ph.D. in psychology and is now a practicing psychologist.

In the video below, Amaechi discusses his career, coming out, and homophobia and racism in sport.

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