London 2012: Standing up to bigotry
On today’s Guardian CIF OBV’s Simon Woolley outlines why he stood up to the racism and bigotry at the Olympic Park.
Great Britain is now basking in the glory of our Olympic Games and also showing its multicultural face. The eight team GB gold medallists last weekend all came from very different walks of life; different races and religions, from north and south of the border, the privileged and not so privileged. A glorious snapshot of who we are.
I dreamed of experiencing this with my son when London won the Games bid back in 2005, so imagine my delight then when I received three tickets to go to a basketball game. I told him, as any proud father would, "we're going to the Olympic Games!" and, as promised, last week we went to the Olympic Park arena to see Lithuania v Nigeria.
But my joy at going to the "greatest show on earth" was quickly overshadowed by the appalling racist behaviour of a large section of the Lithuanian supporters, who began by booing every time the Nigerian players touched the ball. At first I just thought it was poor sportsmanship, but their antagonism towards the Nigerian players quickly escalated. It was shocking – something I've not seen, perhaps, since the 1970s when far-right skinheads roamed the streets. The alcohol-fuelled group of 30 to 40 fans began monkey chanting, and making masturbating gestures.
It's at times like these you ask yourself, "what should I do?" Most people around me seemed disgusted at what was unfolding, but they were unwilling to do anything. Then, about half a dozen of the Lithuanian fans began doing the Nazi salute, at which point I informed the volunteer stewards, who were equally appalled but felt helpless. I demanded they call the police.
The police calmed the situation on arrival, although the booing continued, and we moved seats. I was later informed that one individual had been arrested and have since found out he has been charged and convicted for his behaviour.
Petras Lescinskas, 36, an accountant from Lithuania admitted raising his arm several times and making a "Hitler moustache" with his other hand.
In his defence he told the court that this was acceptable behaviour in his country but the judge rejected his claims.
Although I was unaware of it at the time, a Lithuanian fan had been videoed making the Nazi salute to three black Olympic officials during another basketball match two days earlier. At that game nobody complained and so no action was taken.
Locog officials subsequently told me that they are forced to act if someone makes a complaint. But surely Locog should not have to wait for a member of the public to complain before they feel compelled? Volunteer officials, along with athletes and the public, should not be subject to this behaviour. The games authorities are proud of their zero tolerance statement, but this ideal falls well short unless they take a proactive stand to back it up.
More generally, many more of us should stand up to the bigotry displayed by individuals such as Lescinksas. You don't have to put yourself in harm's way to make a stand. Although the Olympic authorities were not proactive enough in dealing with bigotry, when they were called upon, they, along with the police and the courts, acted decisively.
The collective message to those who think this behaviour is OK was unequivocal: you are wrong.
As we celebrate the success of our multicultural Olympic world-beaters, we must also be ready to defend our multicultural society from such racism and bigotry.