The Genocide Games
The 2013 CECAFA Kagame Cup (soccer, for those who aren’t sure) is being hosted by Sudan right now. The games are taking place in Darfur and South Kordofan, where soccer is extremely popular. Yet Kenya and Tanzania have pulled out of the games, saying that security is a concern. Like the 1936 Summer Olympics, which were used by Hitler to promote Nazi ideology, there is a possibility that playing in Darfur will give the international community the sense that reports of genocide have been greatly exaggerated.
International games are seen by governments as a source of revenue, renewal, and civic pride. Nevertheless, as the protests and riots across Brazil ahead of the World Cup should show, these tournaments can be a mixed blessing, and they are not viewed with wholehearted enthusiasm by the people on the ground. And who benefits from the games in Sudan? In all probability, Omar al-Bashir. He will take credit for the games having come to Sudan, and his regime in Khartoum will reap the benefits, not the people of Kordofan and Darfur. The benefits here do not outweigh the drawbacks of propping al-Bashir’s regime.
Russia, meanwhile, is gearing up for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and the gay community in Russia is urging international viewers to boycott the games. Two weeks ago, Russia officially passed a law outlawing “gay propaganda,” defined as providing any information at all about LGBT people to anyone under 18. While this law has been under discussion, politicians and church leaders have urged young people to take the law into their own hands. Gay activists have been pelted with eggs, urine, and feces. A national television figure has stated that after death, the hearts of gay people should be burned. In the last two months, two gay men have been brutally murdered.
Boycotting the Olympic Games will not change the situation for the LGBT population in Russia, and boycotting the CECAFA Kagame Cup will not stop genocide in Darfur. Yet when a country turns against a group of people, the world has a moral obligation to speak out, and a boycott is one way to express disapproval. It is hard to imagine how anyone can watch these games without feeling sick. That people will continue to be killed is beside the point; in the current international system, sovereignty often gets in the way of effective action. The real point is this: Do we want our countries to lend further support to regimes that commit atrocities? If the answer to that question is “no,” then watching or participating in these events makes us complicit as individuals and as societies.