Current Affairs

LGBT sports and human rights coalition rules out Winter Olympics boycott in favour of visibility option

Joseph McCormick July 31, 2013
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An international coalition of sport and human rights organisations have rejected calls for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, in favour of long-term change and visibility action.

The broad coalition of organisations and activists includes the largest international LGBT sports organisations have begun an effort to respond to anti-gay laws and a rise of homophobia in Russia.

The response includes encouraging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other sports governing bodies to accept responsibility for the choice of host of the events they sanction.

The group is demanding that the IOC host a Pride House in Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympics in a letter written to Jacques Rogge, the president of the IOC.

Lou Englefield, director of Pride Sports UK and coordinator of the group, said: “We believe in action that is concrete and goals that are attainable. We also believe in listening to our partners in Russia who tell us they don’t want a boycott. Athletes should not bear the burden of Putin’s homophobic regime and what is in effect the complicity of the IOC. A boycott punishes hard working athletes rather than challenging repression and those sports organisations which knowingly choose hosts that fail to respect the human rights proclaimed in their own charters.”

Marc Naimark of the Federation of Gay Games stated: “We are heartened by the IOC’s recent declaration that they have received assurances from Russian authorities that the shameful homophobic laws will not be enforced in Sochi. While this is of little solace to the hundreds of thousands of LGBT Russians who will continue to suffer under repressive local and national laws, it should offer some relief to the foreign athletes competing in Sochi. The IOC does not speak of the officials, press, support staff or visitors, for whom the same protections are needed. And we remain skeptical as to the reality of these guarantees, all the more so following declarations of Russian politicians that the laws would indeed be enforced.

“We challenge the IOC to demonstrate its good faith by hosting under its aegis a Pride House in Sochi, open to all, athletes and visitors, gay and straight, Russian and foreign. If the IOC truly believes the assurances of Russian authorities, then the IOC should be able to override the existing ban on a Sochi Pride House and offer a venue for all to meet safely and with freedom of expression.”

David McFarland of United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment added: “Even if there is a Pride House, this does not mean that Sochi should be business as usual. Members of Pride House International have in the past called on LGBT athletes to be visible, and the homophobic laws mean that this call is more imperative than ever for the 2014 Olympics. We know that LGBT athletes are not alone in being revolted by these laws and the behavior of Russian authorities. We are planning actions to support visibility of opposition to Russian homophobia and to support the noble principle of sport for all enshrined in the Olympic Charter.”

Stephen Frost, former head of diversity and inclusion for LOCOG, the host committee for the 2012 Summer Olympics, stated: “We need to continue building long-term systemic change in the policy of sports governing bodies, starting with the most important of all, the International Olympic Committee. The IOC has made great strides to support inclusion in sport, but has only recently specified that sexual orientation discrimination is indeed unacceptable.  A remaining tool at their disposal is to include sexual orientation alongside ethnicity and gender as protected under the Olympic Charter.   This is something the Paralympic movement has already done”

Dean Nelson, founder of the first Pride House at the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver/Whistler spoke of the need to continue the process of true respect for the Olympic principle of sport for all: “Over the past four years since the 2010 Games, many sporting bodies have made tremendous headway in creating safer environments for our athletes and support staff to participate and focus on sport. No government, no politicians, can be allowed to turn back the clock. We all must defend our athletes, coaches and trainers to ensure they are able to participate free from discrimination of any sort including sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.”

Over the past week members of the LGBT community in Britain and the US have urged for a boycott of products from Russia – predominately vodka – in order to highlight the deteriorating legal and security situation of LGBT in the country.

The 2014 Winter Olympics takes place in the Russian city of Sochi next year.

A petition urging the UK Government to strongly advise the British Olympic Association to boycott the Winter Olympics has attracted more than 9,200 signatures.

However, the Russian LGBT Network, representing LGBT people in Russia, announced on its website that it was opposed to a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics – arguing participation is an important way of highlighting injustice.

The coalition’s full letter to the IOC is available to read below.

Letter to Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee


Dear Dr Rogge,

I am writing on behalf of the growing number of individuals and organizations from around the world represented in the Pride House International coalition. Our goal is to promote equality in sport, to fight discrimination in and by sport, and in particular to ensure the safety and visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes, In particular, we aim to build on the success of past Games through the organisation of Pride Houses at international sporting events to increase exchanges between mainstream and LGBT sport and promote the principle of sport for all, and ultimately greater participation in the Olympic movement.

Among our concerns is the choice of host countries made by the IOC and other sport governing bodies, and especially your choice of Sochi as host of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Various members of our coalition have written to you on numerous occasions on this issue, with no response. Indeed, until recently, your only response on this issue, for example the refusal of Russian authorities to authorise a Pride House in Sochi, has been to declare that this is a matter of local law over which you have no authority.

We are therefore somewhat heartened by your recent declaration to RIA Novosti news agency that you would guarantee the safety of athletes and spectators (and others, we hope) identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, in Sochi. But even more recently, a Russian legislator involved in the St Petersburg version of the law has declared that there is no reason federal law would not be enforced for all during the Sochi Olympics, raising doubt about these assurances.

Like you, we hope that no one involved in any way with the 2014 Games will have cause to fear the federal legislation. One way for you to demonstrate this is by hosting a Pride House in Sochi under the aegis of the International Olympic Committee and, to ensure everyone’s safety there, by having one or more members of the IOC present at all times. Our members are at your disposition to make this a reality and are keen to work in partnership with you.

Given the urgency of this matter, I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this with you as soon as possible and eagerly await your response.






Related topics: Americas, LGBT, sochi, US, Winter Olympics

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