Ian Braid on behalf of the athletes: why we should attend the Sochi Games

Eleanor Simmons 12 February 2014

Ian Braid is chief executive of the British Athletes Commission and was a member of the successful team that argued in opposition of the motion ‘This house would boycott the Sochi Olympics 2014’ in the Cambridge Union debate last Thursday. 

At the head of an organisation which represents over 1,500 of Britain’s elite athletes in over 40 Olympic and Paralympic disciplines in the “very pressurised and brutal environment of high performance sport”, Ian Braid’s message is clear: “sport is, or should be, all about the athletes.” 

Whilst accepting that the Olympics can’t be devoid of politics, he argues that politics should only be the focus “in the build-up to the Games.” 

He champions “the profile and the accountability and the discussion and the debate that’s taking place all about Russia. The world’s media and the Western media are holding Russia to account. The telescope that sport puts on hosting nations is such that it can be catalytic for change down the track.” The decision of world leaders to attend the Opening Ceremony or not is for him, irrelevant. If anything, “if David Cameron does go, then there’ll be a media circus following him, which will detract from the sporting activity. I really hope that after the Opening Ceremony, all the concentration is on the field of play: the athletes performing at the pinnacle of their sport.”

Unsurprisingly it would seem that the athletes agree. Ian revealed during the debate that 95% of BAC members were opposed to the idea of a boycott.One stated that it was important to go to the Games as “it is a chance to learn and educate themselves and talk with other athletes.” Another quoted Nelson Mandela saying “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire.” There was clear evidence that the athletes who are members of the British Athletes Commission were not myopic in their pursuit of their personal sporting goals but had considered the issues affecting Russia .    

Braid knows only too well that “there are athletes who along with their families have sacrificed time and money to try and achieve their goal and become an Olympian or Paralympian.” 

To someone who was considering the boycott, he would say that “Since Baron de Coubertin had  the idea of the modern Olympics in 1896, there are only about 7,500 people in Great Britain who have been able to call themselves an Olympian. That is a very exclusive club based on sacrifice, effort and excellence. Most of the athletes only get one shot at it. You’ve got to say to these guys, do not have any regrets, do not think in 20 years’ time, I could have been a contender. It’s their choice about boycotting or not, but you’ve got to give them, the athletes, the opportunity to make it an informed choice about staying away.”  

He points out that “an individual’s decision to boycott the Games might just attract media attention for a while, but then they would struggle  for support from sponsors, making continuation in their sport almost impossible.” 

Seb Coe won his Olympic medals in the boycotted Games of Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles four years later. His success is testament to the belief that relationships developed through international sport are often in the infancy of social change. 
Sport is about the athletes; this belief was at the heart of the London Games in 2012.