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Do you remember this? The whole build up to the Games had been about Russia’s abuse of human rights and the suppression of the LGBTQ+ community (the doping scandal came later.)

In 2013 as the CEO of the British Elite Athletes Association at the time I felt the GB Olympic and Paralympic athletes’ body had to have an opinion on this because of the diverse and inclusive membership the BEAA represented. The BEAA (or BAC as it was) got some attention across the media and this led to me receiving an email in December 2013.

“Dear Mr Braid. We’d be delighted if you would join us to debate the motion ‘This House would boycott the Sochi Olympics.’ We have been honoured in the past to have heard the views of people like ‘Winston Churchill, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, The Dali Llama, Margeret Thatcher, and many others. We would be delighted to hear your views!” (The exclamation mark is mine)

I thought a friend was probably winding me up and as I was already feeling imposter syndrome representing all this fantastic sporting talent, I seriously had my doubts about the authenticity of this. But I rang the number offered on the email – it was genuine, and the President of the Cambridge Union Debating Society, Imogen Schon, was very keen. I gave myself a talking to and concluded that she didn’t actually want my views but those of the athletes. I was very privileged to hold my position and I knew that meant a responsibility to fulfil my duties and organised a survey of the members.

I attended a debate prior to the one I participated in – control the controllables, remove the unknown etc so that my focus on the night was the ‘performance.’ The Cambridge Union is the University’s bespoke building and the debating chamber modelled on the Houses of Common with benches for the opposing sides and the equivalent of the Speaker’s Chair occupied by the President. All this surrounded by galleries for the members.

The crowd had been ‘warmed up’ by a comedian and I was stood next to the leader of the ‘For team’ with my two teammates behind me waiting to walk into the debate. The noise was deafening, and I felt like a Gladiator (dressed in a tuxedo not a tunic) ready to walk into the Colosseum in Rome. As Imogen had already suggested to me that she felt the members would be leaning towards voting for a boycott we’d better be good. I really felt the pressure.

The proposer of the motion was good, and he opened by saying he was a ‘professional bisexual” He was a comedian who talked about his bisexuality in his stage act.  The crowd loved him…and I was next. I gave the athletes’ view, offered a quote from Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Lord Coe, and sat down. Dazed.

Lou Englefield the founder of Pride Sports (a UK organisation for LGBT+ sports development and equality) seconded our motion and finally Veronica Lee, a respected journalist and critic, not only summarised our argument brilliantly, but sent the best wishes of Claire Balding, a former president of the union, who was unable to participate in the debate because she was otherwise engaged. In Sochi for the Opening Ceremony for the BBC!

Everyone left to vote. As in the House of Commons we left through the ‘Ayes’ Nays’ or ‘abstentions’ doors and I headed straight for the bar for a ‘loosener,’ to await the result. After what felt like an age a bellringer came to the lobby to announce the outcome. The ‘Nays’ (us) had it by three votes! There was the biggest number of abstentions the Union had seen that year, and the conclusion was the members who had been convinced that a boycott was the answer came to understand that there was perhaps more to the pros and cons of the argument than they had appreciated.

What did I learn from that experience? The core of the argument about the proposed boycott was that we all have a choice if there is a conflict or dispute. We can stand apart and either metaphorically or literally ‘throw stones’ or we can find a reason (any mutually agreed reason) to come together and talk to look for common ground.

This was the view of the athletes too who saw that whilst their opportunity to be Olympians or Paralympians (and for the few to stand on the podium) was important to them they could see the bigger picture. 

Later in 2014 I went on a course organised by John Sturrock and Core Solutions to learn how to mediate. When athletes had a grievance or concern I was able to offer them advice, support and guidance. They were always worried that escalating a problem would jeopardise their selection or funding and, of course, even if recourse to a lawyer was appropriate they didn’t have the finances. Legal action almost always meant there would be a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’ because of the adversarial nature. I felt that through using mediation techniques the athlete and I could look to establish common ground and work from there towards a mutually acceptable solution. This kept cost of time and money to a minimum and enabled the athletes to continue with their performance programmes. It wasn’t always successful, but it was always worth a try.

Now in DOCIAsport, as a genuine independent working in the sport and activity sector, I am privileged again to use the knowledge and wisdom I have gained through my experiences in sport at all levels. I work to help others find solutions to challenges, issues and opportunities to create sustainable change through encouraging collaboration – bringing people together to listen, talk and share – to make a difference. Duty of Care in Action (DOCIAsport).


Useful Links

Pride Sports | A UK organisation for LGBT+ sports development and equality

Core Solutions (core-solutions.com)