The International Olympic Committee (IOC), in a move that threatens the very credibility of the Olympic movement, said this week that it is “fully satisfied” that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law does not violate the Olympic Charter, meaning the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games can go ahead.
Said Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission, as he gave his stamp of approval after inspecting Sochi’s Olympic facilities for the final time:
“The Olympic Charter states that all segregation is completely prohibited, whether it be on the grounds of race, religion, color or other, on the Olympic territory. That will be the case, we are convinced. Another thing I should add… The IOC doesn’t really have the right to discuss the laws in the country where the Olympic Games are organized. As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied, and that is the case.”
The anti-gay propaganda law, which appears to ban all public advocacy for gay rights and will serve to block all attempts at staging Pride events in direct contradiction to established EU and United Nations standards, was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in late June.
Putin and Russian officials have maintained that this law simply protects children from the influence of “non traditional sexual orientation.”
Quite the contrary, however, the law appears to have ignited an anti-gay fever in Russia with reports of LGBT people being violently attacked and raped, even while lawmakers consider extensions of the law such as removing children from gay parents.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that effectively bans all public protests and gatherings in Sochi for the two months surrounding February’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, and even establishing so-called forbidden zones that will have restricted access. While it is common for host countries to beef up security, they usually do so within the bounds of established human rights protocols.
Furthermore, just this past week, several protesters were detained for daring to protest the Sochi Olympics, with controversial activist Nikolai Alexeyev, who was detained on Wednesday, vowing to launch a legal appeal as he has done in the past against similar rights infractions.
Unsurprisingly, gay rights advocates are furious at the IOC’s cavalier pronouncements:
“If this law doesn’t violate the IOC’s charter, then the charter is completely meaningless,” HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement. “The safety of millions of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Russians and international travelers is at risk, and by all accounts the IOC has completed neglected its responsibility to Olympic athletes, sponsors and fans from around the world.”
It appears the IOC has not read its own Olympic Charter lately. Had they done so, they would clearly note that the limiting of freedom of expression and assembly is against the Olympic Charter:
5. Recognising that sport occurs within the framework of society, sports organisations within the Olympic Movement shall have the rights and obligations of autonomy, which include freely establishing and controlling the rules of sport, determining the structure and governance of their organisations, enjoying the right of elections free from any outside influence and the responsibility for ensuring that principles of good governance be applied.
And it behooves us to take a closer look at Rule 6 ,which Killy seems to have a loose grasp of:
6. Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.
As this illustrates, Russia’s propaganda law specifically targets the gay community and discriminates against them on grounds of both curtailing their rights to freedom of expression and further pushing the idea that gay people can damage children. If that falls under what the IOC classes as “good governance,” the group is really beyond hope.
Yet, when it comes to gay rights and indeed wider human rights, the IOC has a history of simply not caring.
Ahead of London hosting the Olympic Games in 2012, human rights groups campaigned against the inclusion of several nations that sanction anti-LGBT discrimination and even violence, as well as violence toward religious minorities and women, but the IOC would not comment beyond its general “we’re not political” soundbite. Much the same happened with the Beijing Olympics, despite evidence of rights abuses being committed in the run-up to the event.
That no political leaders and few if any of the Sochi 2014 sponsors have done anything meaningful to take action against Russia’s treatment of its LGBT community, of women, and of foreign nationals, surely is a shame that weighs on us all.
In terms of what this means for gay athletes, however, many are still determined to attend the Sochi 2014 games and, despite the IOC’s threat of repercussions, have vowed to protest in some form.
Whether Russia will attempt to apply the propaganda law while foreign athletes are in Sochi remains to be seen. What has always been more concerning is what will happen to Russia’s LGBT population and other minorities once the Olympic athletes and the “satisfied” IOC leave and the Russian administration’s morality crusade continues.
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