Steve Chapman

The International Olympic Committee says it has "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games." If police were going to drag protesting medalists off of the podium, a different approach would be warranted. But Putin isn't likely to do something that would impress his brutality upon the world.

The last U.S. boycott, in 1980, suggests that refusing to participate will accomplish nothing of value. It was a protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But the Soviets stayed there until 1989.

What the protest did achieve was to punish blameless athletes who had trained for years for the chance to compete in the ultimate contest. Many of them lost the chance forever. The same thing happened in 1984, when the Soviets and their satellite states paid us back by spurning the Los Angeles Games. They had no more effect on our government's policies than we had on theirs.

It's true that host governments endeavor to strengthen their hold on power by showing themselves off in the most flattering light. But as the Chinese can attest, the games also invite intense worldwide scrutiny, which in the modern media age is likely to trump any gains.

By singling out gays for discrimination, the Russian government has invited athletes to find ways to signal their belief in equal treatment -- before the eyes of the Russian people and the world. In the end, the games are likely to highlight the flaws of the ruling regime, not conceal them.

Will the games make an important contribution toward expanding gay rights and human rights in Putin's Russia? No. But that's not their purpose. Their purpose is to showcase individual excellence, honest striving and peaceful competition across national boundaries. It's not everything, but it's enough.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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