October 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
IOC president responds to LGBT group’s campaign
Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of All Out and Athlete Ally on August 7 presented a petition with more than 300,000 signatures to the International Olympic Committee that urges it to pressure Russia to end its gay crackdown. (Photo courtesy of All Out)

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Monday told the head of an LGBT advocacy group that his organization “will do everything it can to ensure” the 2014 Winter Olympics and any future games “will be free of any form of discrimination.”

Bach made the comments in a letter to All Out Executive Director Andre Banks in response to the organization’s campaign asking the IOC to clarify whether the Olympic Charter explicitly opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Bach said during his speech before the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece on September 29 that Olympic values include “respect without any form of discrimination.” He referenced his remarks in the letter he sent to Banks.

“Our task at the IOC is to ensure that the charter is fully applied at the Olympic games and is fully accepted at all venues for all participants from athletes and officials to media and spectators,” Bach wrote.

Bach told Banks the IOC last week once again received “assurances” from the Kremlin that “this will be the case” during the Sochi games “and clearly, this is what the IOC demands and expects.” The letter also said the IOC received “written confirmation” from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak on the issue.

“Russia has committed itself to comply strictly with the provision of the Olympic Charter and its fundamental principles, according to item 6 of which 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,” Kozak said as Bach noted in his letter to Banks.

Bach’s latest comments come against the backdrop of growing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record and calls to boycott the Sochi games over it.

All Out and Athlete Ally in August presented IOC officials a petition with more than 300,000 signatures that urged the Russian government to protect the rights of their LGBT citizens. It also called upon the Olympic body to support activists within Russia who continue to urge the Kremlin to stop its anti-LGBT crackdown ahead of the Sochi games.

The IOC has repeatedly said the Russian government has assured it the gay propaganda to minors ban that President Vladimir Putin signed in June will not affect athletes and others who plan to travel to the Olympics. These assurances come even though officials have said the statute will apply to those who attend the games in February.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and the Dutch LGBT advocacy group COC Nederland are among those who have expressed concern over the safety of gay athletes who will compete in Sochi and others who will travel to the games. President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have also publicly criticized Putin over his government’s LGBT rights record.

Bach told Banks in his letter the IOC’s “remit does not extend to the internal affairs of sovereign nations, no matter how we may feel about them.”

“We are not a supra-national Parliament or government and we must leave such deliberations to the competent authorities,” Bach wrote. “The IOC cannot hope to influence national legislation outside the scope of the games and has to respect the law of each host country.”

Bach further reiterated the Associated Press misquoted IOC Coordination Commission Chair Jean-Claude Killy when it reported he said during a Sochi press conference last month that the Olympic body is “fully satisfied” Russia’s gay propaganda law does not violate the Olympic charter.

“What we do know is that the games, the Olympic athletes and, above all, the Olympic Village can be a powerful symbol that sets an example for peaceful co-existence and mutual respect,” Bach wrote. “This is what we are striving for at each edition of the games.”

Banks said Bach’s letter did not go far enough to address his organization’s request.

“Bach should encourage Olympians in Sochi to speak out against discrimination faced by gay athletes and citizens in Russia, because that’s what the Olympic charter says is right,” Banks said in a statement his group released after he received Koch’s letter. “But the IOC is bending its own rules to obscure the obvious conflict with unjust Russian laws, which seek to silence discussion of gay people.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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