AMSTERDAM—The executive director of the Dutch LGBT advocacy group COC Nederland said during an interview with the Washington Blade earlier this month the International Olympic Committee should take a stronger stand against Russia’s LGBT rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“I don’t think they’ve done enough to uphold their own charters,” Koen van Dijk said during an interview at COC Nederland’s Amsterdam office on Sept. 4. “I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the IOC to be the watchdog of the human rights situation in Russia, but they did make a decision to plan this major event in a country where they knew the situation was bad, where they knew it was deteriorating.”
The IOC told the Blade last month the Olympics “should be open to all, free of discrimination” against athletes and others who attend them. It also said those who participate in the Sochi games could face disqualification or loss of their credentials if they publicly criticize Russia’s gay propaganda ban to minors that President Vladimir Putin signed into law in June.
Russian authorities have repeatedly said they will enforce the law during the Sochi games, in spite of repeated assurances the IOC said it has received from the Kremlin the statute would not impact athletes who plan to compete in the Olympics.
Figure skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is of Russian descent, told CBS News last month he is “not afraid of being arrested” while in Sochi. Gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup said he plans to wear a rainbow pin during the Olympics if he qualifies to compete in them.
“[The IOC] started first by saying the Olympic games should not be used for political signals,” van Dijk noted. “After that they banned rainbow signals, which sort of implies that they think giving a voice to either your own sexual orientation or solidarity with other people is a political statement.”
Van Dijk spoke with the Blade two days before President Obama met with two Russian LGBT rights advocates and seven other human rights activists during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg.
The ongoing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record coincides with the 400th anniversary of friendship between Russia and the Netherlands.
COC Nederland in April organized a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the meeting he had with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Amsterdam. A rainbow flag also flew at half-staff over Amsterdam City Hall and at other locations throughout the city while Putin visited.
More than 3,000 people last month protested Russia’s gay rights record during a Kremlin-sponsored concert in Amsterdam’s Museumplein that van Dijk said was designed to “acquaint the Dutch audience with the beauty and diversity of Russian culture.”
“We said well we understand the beauty and diversity of Russian culture and we fully agree,” van Dijk told the Blade. “But when the same government that is presenting us with this concert is fighting against diversity in their own country, we don’t want them to bring any propaganda here. So we decided to precede their concert with our own manifestation.”
Van Dijk noted Rutte has spoken out against the gay propaganda law and Russia’s LGBT rights record “very strongly.”
COC Nederland is scheduled to meet with the Dutch Olympic Committee on Wednesday to discuss the issue going into the Sochi games. Dutch Parliamentarians have also debated the possibility of boycotting the Olympics, but COC Nederland does not support such an action.
“The LGBT community in Russia is very vulnerable,” van Dijk said, noting public opinion in Russia is against gays and lesbians who remain susceptible to anti-LGBT violence. “Calling for a boycott would only give power to the anti-gay sentiments in Russia and make them more vulnerable because they would be the international conspirators that have spoiled the big Russian party of the winter games.”
Van Dijk stressed his organization feels “it’s better to keep communication lines open” with the Russians as opposed to boycotting the Sochi games. He also said he feels it is important for COC Nederland and other LGBT advocacy groups to take into account their Russian counterparts who do not support calls to boycott the Olympics.
“We always want to put the opinion of the people that we are working [with] there in front,” van Dijk said. “The Russian LGBT movement sent a very clear signal: Don’t boycott, but come over and show us your diversity. Make a statement during the games instead of leaving us alone and boycott.”