GayStarNews / Homophobia in sport: The IOC is the problem, let it be the solution
As the approach of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games raises attention to the official and unofficial homophobia of host country Russia, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) responses, or lack thereof, are increasingly disturbing.
Despite the rising calls for action, the IOC has remained impervious to appeals to work together to identify the problem and propose solutions.
For example, at the opening of Gay Games VIII in Cologne in 2010, the Federation of Gay Games announced the Principle Five Campaign to get sexual orientation into the Olympic Charter.
This Principle of the Olympic Charter – now Principle Six following a revision of the document to enshrine the IOC’s claim of supremacy over national governments! – states: ‘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.’
We received no response whatsoever from the IOC at that time, and the issue of the silence of Principle Six with respect to sexual orientation remains.
I had always assumed that ‘otherwise’ in Principle Six should include sexual orientation. Jacques Rogge, outgoing president of the IOC, seems to agree, because in recent remarks he explicitly included sexual orientation alongside race, religion, etc as an unacceptable criterion for discrimination in the Olympic Movement. And yet the IOC refuses to discuss making this criterion an explicit part of the Charter.
More important, the IOC indicates each day they won’t enforce the Charter in light of this inclusive interpretation. Spokespeople for the IOC refer consistently to the Olympic Charter’s rule 50, which bans ‘propaganda’. At the Sochi Olympics, if an athlete embraces his husband at the end of a race, both are subject to Russia’s repressive laws, and the athlete is subject to disqualification by the IOC. At the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, we have seen a warning to an athlete for her choice in nail polish, and possible sanctions for two athletes who congratulated each other on the podium.
Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter concerns political propaganda, not demonstrations of solidarity with LGBT athletes and others, nor a simple reminder of the values of inclusion of the Olympic Movement itself.
According to the IOC’s interpretation of rule 50, a Christian athlete who crosses herself before her event should be punished for religious ‘propaganda’. This would rightly be seen as patently absurd, yet the IOC is happy to acquiesce to the equally absurd contention that simply saying in words or gestures one is homosexual constitutes propaganda under both Russian law and IOC rules.
Just as the IOC has asked Russian authorities for ‘clarification’ of the anti-gay law, athletes should be asking the IOC what constitutes ‘political propaganda’: both Russia and the IOC seem to be relying on ambiguity to instil fear and to induce self-censorship.
This is why the Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative launched by Pride House International, a coalition of LGBT sport and human rights groups of which the FGG is proud to be a founding member, is so important.
We are calling on everyone – athletes, press, officials, spectators, etc – present in Sochi to take every opportunity simply to hold hands with a person of the same sex, whatever their own sexual orientation.
Will the Russians be arresting every athlete on every podium who dares raise the hand of his rivals for acts of ‘propaganda’? Will the IOC be disqualifying every athlete who embraces her female coach for a ‘political act’? The absurdity of the current state of thinking in the Olympic Movement must be highlighted so that change can occur.
Defending human rights cannot be contrary to the Olympic Charter: Principle Four of the Charter itself declares the practice of sport is a human right. Human rights are not a partisan political matter: they are fundamental to the human experience.
More pertinently, the IOC seems confused about what action in Sochi would signify: there is legitimate political opposition to the anti-gay legislation in Russia, and I understand and support those who wish to protest this legislation.
But many of us, dismayed at the anti-gay legislation and its impact on LGBT Russians, are (also) concerned about sport itself and the impact of this law on those taking part in the 2014 Olympics, starting with the ability of athletes to perform at their peak while under the pall of this legislation.
All the calls for pink socks, rainbow flags, and hand holding must be seen in reference to the Olympic Charter itself. While there is a message to Russian authorities, there is first and foremost a message to the Olympic Movement.
Rather than seeing the calls for visibility as just an attack on Russian politics, the IOC needs to see them as what they are: a message to the leaders of the Olympic Movement, which claims to have no authority over human rights legislation in host countries, but strictly enforces changes in local legislation to protect its commercial interests. By declining to meaningfully challenge Russian authorities who have put their country in contradiction with the IOC Charter, by consistently ignoring human rights and discrimination, the IOC is part of the problem. But this does not have to be the case.
The Federation of Gay Games is pleased to support Pride House International’s proposal for real positive change for the Olympic Movement:
- We have called on the IOC to update the Olympic Charter and revise Principle six to make it say what Jacques Rogge thinks it says (ie, to include sexual orientation).
- We ask that the principle set out by Richard Carrion, a candidate to replace Jacques Rogge, be adopted: countries that discriminate against persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity should not be qualified to bid for or host Olympic Games.
- And we desire an ongoing dialogue with the Olympic Movement, symbolized by the hosting of a Pride House at all Olympic Games.
We believe in the principles of the Olympic Charter, we believe in sport for all. As long as the IOC continues to exclude, threaten, and oppress millions of gay and lesbian athletes, they are showing that unlike us, they do not believe in the Olympic Charter, they do not believe in sport for all, they do not believe that the practice of sport is a human right.
The IOC has authority because governments and the world of sport have given it authority. That makes us all stakeholders in the Olympic Movement. The only way the IOC will change is if athletes who participate in sport, if officials who govern sport, if sponsors who finance sport, if fans and consumers who support sport, act to show that sport must be for everyone. We’re reaching out to the IOC: we hope they’ll take our hand.