Advocates remain largely skeptical of the International Olympic Committee’s efforts to strengthen its anti-discrimination provisions in the wake of the controversial 2014 Winter Olympics that took place in Russia against the backdrop of the country’s anti-LGBT rights record.
The IOC in December 2014 amended the Olympic Charter’s anti-discrimination clause known as Principle 6 to include sexual orientation. The organization, which is based in the Swiss city of Lausanne, a couple of months earlier added an anti-discrimination clause to its host city contract.
Human rights advocates sharply criticized the IOC’s decision late last month to award the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing. The Kazakh city of Almaty was a finalist to host the games, despite the fact that lawmakers in the former Soviet republic in February approved a bill that would ban the promotion of so-called gay propaganda.
Beijing won the games by a 44-40 vote margin.
“These policies are a bunch of fluff,” said Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of Outsports.com, an LGBT sports website, as he discussed the IOC’s expanded anti-discrimination provisions. “What matters is the cities they choose to be the hosts and the discriminatory countries that are allowed to participate. The Olympics just selected a country not just with huge LGBT issues, but human rights violations that are massive.”
“They almost picked a country that’s even worse,” he added.
A Russian-style bill that sought to ban the promotion of so-called propaganda to minors received final approval in the Kazakh Parliament shortly after IOC members visited the country in February. The Kazakhstan Constitutional Council in May struck down the measure, but a lawmaker has said he plans to reintroduce it.
A report that Human Rights Watch released a week before the IOC awarded the 2022 Winter Olympic games to Beijing notes the Kazakh propaganda bill “would have directly contravened” Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter.
“The IOC shouldn’t take its eye off the ball on ugly discrimination and human rights abuses for Olympic host contenders,” said Kyle Knight, a Human Rights Watch researcher who wrote the report, in a press release that announced it. “The IOC and the Kazakhstan government should publicly condemn anti-LGBT discrimination to signal that there is no place for homophobia in global sport or the countries that want to host Olympic games.”
Zhanar Sekerbayeva of the Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative earlier this month during a Skype interview from Amsterdam described the release of the Human Rights Watch report as a “very significant” moment.
Retired tennis player Martina Navratilova and other prominent sports figures in May expressed their opposition to Kazakhstan’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in a letter they wrote to IOC President Thomas Bach. Sekerbayeva noted Almaty-based advocates in an open letter to the IOC noted the former Soviet republic has what she described to the Blade as “a very bad homophobic situation.”
“We just tried to warn people in the committee that it may be a second Sochi,” Sekerbayeva told the Blade, referring to Kazakhstan’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. “Of course we didn’t want this.”
Chinese advocates with whom the Blade spoke were reluctant to discuss whether the Beijing games would have any impact on pro-LGBT efforts in their country.
“I have no idea about how the Winter Olympics will do anything to improve the overall human rights record,” said Xin “Iron” Ying, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Center. “We have never heard government officials talk about LGBT rights in China.”
“Maybe it will change in the next 10 years,” she added.
Another Chinese advocate said questions about whether the 2022 Winter Olympics would have a positive impact on the country’s LGBT rights movement “were too sensitive.”
Principle 6 to be applied in Beijing
Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2013 signed a broadly worded law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.
LGBT rights advocates in the U.S. and elsewhere urged athletes to boycott the Sochi games over the controversial law, but Putin insisted that gays and lesbians attending the Olympics would not face discrimination. Bach said he had received repeated assurances from the Kremlin that LGBT athletes and spectators would be welcome in Russia.
Authorities in Moscow and St. Petersburg arrested more than a dozen people who protested the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record on the same day the games opened in Sochi. Russian police arrested Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender former Italian parliamentarian, twice in the Black Sea resort city after she publicly challenged the gay propaganda law during the Olympics.
Sekerbayeva noted to the Blade that the Kazakh government in its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics insisted that LGBT people did not face discrimination or harassment from the police in the former Soviet republic. She said people blamed LGBT rights advocates for the IOC’s decision to award the games to Beijing and not Almaty.
“We see how our society decided to blame us,” said Sekerbayeva.
Mark Adams, a spokesperson for the IOC, told the Blade in a statement that organizers of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing have pledged that “for all games-related matters and for all participants, the Olympic Charter, including respect of Principle 6, will be fully applied.”
“The IOC is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation as stated in the Olympic Charter,” said Adams. “The games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and, of course, athletes. This has been upheld at all editions of the Olympic games.”
Maria von Känel, general manager of the Swiss Rainbow Families Association, told the Blade the decision to amend Principle 6 and add an anti-discrimination clause to the Olympics host city contracts shows that members of the IOC listened to LGBT rights advocates’ concerns in the wake of the Sochi games.
“It’s something powerful,” she said during a Skype interview from Zurich. “It’s visible, but I think it’s a start. Now we have to implement it.”
Sekerbayeva, like von Känel, welcomes the inclusion of sexual orientation in Principle 6. She nevertheless questioned why the IOC waited until after the Sochi games to amend the Olympic Charter’s anti-discrimination clause.
“I always wondered why we should wait for something very bad (to happen) and then we decide to have some decision,” said Sekerbayeva. “We did not want Sochi to go and have the Olympic games, but it did and we saw a lot of bad things, a lot of hate speech.”
“It’s better to (make these decisions) before such big events,” she added.
Zeigler made a similar point, noting Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics despite China’s human rights record.
“Forget about LGBT rights, they don’t care about human rights,” he told the Blade, referring to the IOC. “It’s irrelevant. They have a lengthy record to demonstrate that.”