IOC Abandons LGBT Russians, Olympic Athletes Ahead of Sochi Games

by Charles Joughin

HRC’s Griffin: “If this law doesn’t violate the IOC’s charter, then the charter is completely meaningless.”

WASHINGTON – Today the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the governing body of the Olympic Games, announced it was “fully satisfied” that Russia’s heinous anti-gay propaganda law does not violate the anti-discrimination guarantees of the Olympic charter.  Recently the Russian government adopted a law that outlaws even the most modest gestures of support for the dignity and humanity of LGBT people, putting at risk Russia’s LGBT community and all travelers visiting for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.  Furthermore, this law contributes to a culture of violence and harassment against the Russian LGBT community that goes unchecked everyday by law enforcement.  The announcement today from the IOC comes just one day after LGBT activists were arrested outside the headquarters for the Sochi Olympics organizing committee—simply for holding posters protesting the law.

“If this law doesn’t violate the IOC’s charter, then the charter is completely meaningless,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin.  “The safety of millions of LGBT 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.  The IOC and its new president, Thomas Bach, are putting the good reputation of the Olympic Games and its corporate sponsors in jeopardy.”

At a press conference earlier today, IOC chairman Jean-Claude Killy stated that, after several days of deliberation, the committee concluded that “the IOC doesn’t have the right to discuss the ... laws that are in place in the country hosting the games” unless the Olympic charter is clearly violated.  Yet the Olympic charter clearly 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.”

HRC had previously called on the IOC not to be credulous when it comes to the anti-LGBT law: “Mere verbal assurances from the Russian government that foreigners will be exempt from their repressive laws are not enough. The IOC must obtain ironclad written assurance from President Putin. But more importantly, they should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics. Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”

Earlier this month, Germany’s Thomas Bach was elected president of the IOC, and he stated, "You will see that we will follow our values in the Olympic charter. … We have assurances from the highest authorities in Russia [that the law will not affect athletes and visitors]. We trust those assurances. The policy of the IOC in more detail will be worked out and be communicated."

The IOC has yet to provide any written documentation of how the law can be enforced while still guaranteeing the safety of Olympic athletes and visitors.

“Today’s announcement will only increase the global pressure on the IOC and its corporate sponsors to act,” continued HRC’s Griffin. 

In June, a law banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" was passed by Russia’s Federal Assembly and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.  Under the guise of protecting children from "homosexual propaganda," the law imposes fines or jail time to citizens who disseminate information that may cause a "distorted understanding" that LGBT and heterosexual relationships are "socially equivalent." The fines are significantly higher if such information is distributed through the media or Internet.

Foreigners, such as those visiting Russia for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, will not only be fined but also face arrest and up to 15 days in jail, followed by eventual deportation, according to the new law.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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