Opinion | The Boston Marathon’s Brainless Bigotry

Historical parallels often come to mind when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the brutality and megalomania of Vladimir Putin, many remember Adolf Hitler. In the soaring rhetoric and heroic defiance of Volodymyr Zelensky, others hear echoes of Winston Churchill. In the moral outrage but relatively cautious policies of Joe Biden, there is a touch of George, would be unwise, HW Bush.

And in Wednesday’s decision by the Boston Athletic Association to ban runners from Russia and Belarus from competing in this year’s Boston Marathon, we are reminded of the words of Otter, one of the fraternity characters from “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” ”: “I think this situation absolutely requires a really useless and stupid gesture to be made by someone.”

Announcing his decision, which applies to residents of both countries but not to Russians or Belarusians living abroad, the BAA president explained in a press release that “we believe that running is a global sport and, as As such, we must do what we can to show our support for the people of Ukraine.” In an email, the association told me that a total of 63 athletes will be eliminated from the marathon and a 5K race that precedes it.

On the surface, the decision is similar to other recent cancellations of Russian artists: the removal of Valery Gergiev as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic for refusing to denounce the invasion of Ukraine; the banning of scheduled summer performances at London’s Royal Opera House of the Bolshoi Ballet, which has long been an arm of the Russian state; the Met’s cancellation of soprano Anna Netrebko because of her past association with Putin (although she later issued a statement denouncing the war).

One can debate the merits of these decisions, and there is always a slippery slope when it comes to making cultural decisions based on political considerations. If we are going to ban Russian artists and athletes for invading Ukraine, why not their Chinese counterparts for Beijing’s depredations in Xinjiang? Why shouldn’t other countries do the same to American musicians and athletes the next time an American president deploys forces somewhere they haven’t been invited?

But whatever the answer to these questions, there is at least the argument that Gergiev, Netrebko and the Bolshoi are associated with the Kremlin power structure. What about those 63 runners who just want to complete a famous and challenging 26.2-mile course?

I asked the BAA what responsibility athletes banned by their government policies have. Unanswered. I also asked if exceptions would be made for brokers who make public statements denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. No answer on this, either.

The questions must be difficult to answer because it is hard to think of any justification for the BAA’s indiscriminate discrimination. So let’s help them think about this.

First point: Thousands of Russians, in recent weeks, have courageously risked imprisonment by publicly protesting against the war. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets to denounce electoral fraud in the August 2020 elections, only to be met with a “reign of terror” by the government of Aleksandr Lukashenko. Clearly, not all Russians and Belarusians support their leaders, a point the BAA should try to honor, not ignore.

Second point: Reducing the citizens of a state to an identity with the politics of their government is not just a gross moral simplification. It is also a gift to people like Putin and Lukashenko, who want nothing more than for people to believe that they alone speak for all their people and that their policies have universal support. It should be possible for Russians and Belarusians to be proud of their countries and ashamed of their governments.

Point Three: In recent years, Putin has gone out of his way to punish Western Woke culture for being censorious and repressive, not to mention hypocritical. “Now they are engaging in cancel culture, even removing Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff from the cartels,” he complained last month. What the BAA has done only validates the accusation.

Point Four: Americans are supposed to believe in openness, competition, and fair play. We are also supposed to believe that democratic societies never shine brighter than when they uphold these principles against adversaries who flout them. It would be nice to see the BAA celebrate those ideals.

In “Animal House”, Otter defends his fellow Deltas by insisting, “You can’t hold an entire fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, perverted individuals.” At this point, at least, let’s give Otter his due: You also don’t hold entire societies responsible for the behavior of their despotic leaders. The BAA should reflect on this and let the Russians and Belarusians compete under the flags of their countries for the hope of what their countries could one day become, free from the yoke of their current leaders.

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