The Olympics and Human Rights: Does the IOC Finally Get It?

After all the protests, the outrage and the human rights abuses, the Sochi Olympics has come to an end. As we transition into the Paralympics, are there signs that the IOC is finally getting the message about Russia’s anti-human rights laws?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the group responsible for selecting hosts for the Olympics and overseeing that host countries fulfill their promises during the games, has indicated that it has heard the mountain of criticism it has received over Russia’s hosting the Olympic and Paralympic games when the country severely regressed on human rights — and, in particular, gay rights — and may be willing to call for stricter adherence to the Olympic Charter’s nondiscrimination provisions.

In the past week, IOC spokesman Mark Adams remained defiant that Principle 6, the nondiscrimination provision in the Olympic Charter, has been adhered to during Sochi, but appears to recognize there is room to improve the way the IOC approaches sexuality in its selection criteria:

“We have made it absolutely crystal clear that Principle 6 covers all forms of discrimination,” he is quoted as saying. With regards to amending the document to make it explicitly gay inclusive, he added, “Could it be changed? It can be changed. We are, as you know, in the middle of Agenda 2020 which is looking at just about everything on how Olympics are run.”

In addition to this, IOC President Thomas Bach, a man heavily criticized for his unwillingness to broach the topic of Russia’s newly enacted anti-gay laws, announced shortly after the Sochi Olympics got underway that there is a wide-ranging review currently being undertaken and that, while Principle 6 is not something that is specifically slated for attention, strong public opinion could force a review.

When we have a trans politician and LGBT rights advocates arrested by Russian authorities, when members of Pussy Riot are on film being whipped for protesting, and when the Putin administration is rewarding state media figures who previously said “gay hearts should be burned” among other violent and vile things, the IOC has a lot of work to do in order to restore confidence that its Charter means anything at all. So, what exact changes would help the IOC and the rest of the Olympic interests move on from the Sochi affair?

First, nothing short of making a commitment against discrimination a binding condition of hosting the Olympics will suffice.

The IOC has consistently dodged any questions of advocacy, claiming it is non-political. However, when countries use the Olympics for tourism and to raise their international profile, we know the Olympics does contribute to the political power of the administration and its policies, and to pretend otherwise is facile. Therefore, a commitment to non-discrimination isn’t far enough. The Olympics should also concern itself with helping countries kindle and maintain the Olympic spirit long after the games themselves have finished, ensuring that the “Olympic legacy” isn’t just monetary or about sport, but instead also about improving a country’s human rights landscape in keeping with the sporting ideals the IOC claims the Olympics is about.

The countries currently in the running for 2022 Winter Olympics include Beijing, whose human rights failures were highlighted when Beijing hosted the summer Olympics in 2008, the Ukraine, Oslo in Norway, Poland’s Krakow and Kazakhstan’s Almaty. Several of those nations still have laws that either ignore LGBT rights or in some cases criminalize LGBT people. If the IOC really does understand why it has received so much criticism, it cannot afford to ignore those issues going forward.

Does the IOC finally get how it so badly failed the LGBT community by failing to address Russia’s anti-LGBT stance? It’s too soon to tell but it will be the IOC’s actions that matter, not its words, as the process to select the next host gets underway. Meanwhile, as many other activists have pointed out, Russians must now deal with the country’s human rights restrictions once the Olympic and Paralympic flame and its rosy spotlight has left.

Photo credit: kenyee via flickr.


Ellie K.
Ellie K3 years ago


Stevie A.
Stevie A3 years ago

I am not perfect, though I do try to behave. And I do think that ignoring violations of human rights is a wrong. It is important to be going in the right direction. This is very difficult. I do want other countries to do the right thing, yet the US has political prisoners (Leonard Peltier, our own Nelson Mandela). I am glad I don't have to make the decision.

Vicky P.
Vicky P3 years ago

no? I don't think they care

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L3 years ago

No they don't get it and they have a long way to go to show they are willing to learn and obyed by their own Principle 6.

Mandy H.
Mandy H3 years ago

I'm honestly over all the Olympic hype, I'm really sick of hearing about it which is why I went out of my way not to watch it. However I do believe that it can be useful in forcing issues of human rights, after all there was a huge uproar about the Olympians who where getting hateful emails from Muslim extremists because they where female athletes and the IOC took a stand there. However we must remember that these things will always be looked at in terms of MONEY, money always trumps anything else.

Anne M.
anne M3 years ago

Let's face it, Americans don't like Russia and consider themselves above everybody else. If someone built a wall around the US, the rest of the world would be a lot happier. Who can tolerate mean-spirited and arrogant people such as Americans? What a horrible nation, really. They only way Americans can even live with themselves is to either stay drunk or stoned most of the time.

Anne M.
anne M3 years ago

What anti-human-rights laws are we talking about here? For goodness sakes, there are about a dozen nations in the whole world that recognize same-sex marriages (and the US isn't even one of those where fewer than half the states recognize it and the rest are trying to pass laws that make it legal for anybody to openly discriminate against gay people), so why all this ado about Russia not being among those either? After all, the Olympics took place in the US several times although this nation in its entirety didn't and still doesn't recognize same-sex marriages either. Then again, in Atlanta entire residential areas of poor people were cleared out for the Olympics, sort of like in Sochi. And in the US it's legal to incarcerate people indefinitely for minor infractions simply because they provide cheap labor for privatized prisons. Then again, even when Bush's Olympics took place in Utah, there were innocent people tortured in Gitmo. Does that count as a human rights violation? And Marc, wolves walking through hotels in Sochi, which is really a very modern resort town all year around? You believe just anything anti-Russian, don't you? Penny, didn't they put the stray dogs and cats into a shelter after all rather than killing them? In the US, on the other hand, the police even shoots dogs that are in their own yard or on a leash, so what exactly causes you to get on that high pedestal? Let's face it, Americans don't like Russia and consider themselves above everybody

Wesley Struebing
Wesley Struebing3 years ago

Yeah - sure, they get it. Until the next Olympics...

penny D.
Kim M3 years ago

I didn't watch any of the Olympics and I didn't miss it. The reason I didn't watch - because they beat and poisoned dogs to death in Sochi, they wanted all the thousands of strays they've got to be got rid of and they did it in the worst way possible.

The Olympics are a joke. It costs countries billions to host them. We've got so many homeless people in the UK but suddenly £12billion could be found for this rubbish and of course they had a jew in charge of it all who also managed to get the emblem written as "Zion". Afterwards the halls of residence were sold for a pittance - it's all so corrupt and wrong.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

I stopped watching the Olympics when a person won by a part of a second.
Humans do not work that way...only machines do. Under a more real way is that both people would have won. The 'there can only be one' attitude is rude and wrong.