The head of the International Olympic Committee came out strongly for the first time, pledging to protect and embrace the LGBT community during the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
International Olympics Committee President Thomas Bach explicitly said on Monday that the Olympic Charter will do everything it can to protect and embrace the LGBT community during the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Responding to All Out, an LGBT advocacy group, Bach clarified the committee’s stance on Russia’s anti-gay laws and cited Principle 6 of the Olympic Carter, the guiding principles used to govern the Games, to bar discrimination in any form.
“The Olympic Charter opposes any form of discrimination…on the grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise,” the IOC said in statement released Monday. “For the IOC this absolutely includes opposition to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.”
However, in Bach’s initial statement, he conceded that the Charter cannot intervene with the government and do nothing more than to “respect the law of each host country” but will “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.”
“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 said in his first letter to All Out. “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 coexistence and mutual respect.”
In August, All Out presented a petition of over 300,000 signatures to the IOC, urging the organization “to condemn Russia’s anti-gay law before the Olympic Games, denounce the laws and [urge] Russia to ensure the security of all visitors, athletes and Russian people before, during, and after the Games.”
Andre Banks, executive director and co-founder of All Out, celebrated the IOC’s statement, calling it “a small, but important victory.”
“The original goal of our campaign to get All Out members to send thousands of letter to Bach was to encourage the IOC to go officially and unequivocally on the record saying that the Olympic movement believes discrimination against gays and lesbians violates the fundamental principles of the Games,” said Banks in a statement to MSNBC.com.
While the Russian government has stated that they will enforce the anti-gay laws in the country, it has remained unclear to athletes and visitors will be subject to the law during the Sochi Games.
Dmitry Kozak, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Games, confirmed to the IOC that, “Russia has committed itself to comply strictly with the provisions of the Olympic Charter and its fundamental principles,” as Bach points out in his letter, citing Principle 6 which prohibits “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.”
GLAAD, an organization promoting LGBT equality, told MSNBC.com that the IOC is not doing enough to recognize gays and lesbians.
“It is telling that the International Olympic Committee can’t even bring itself to say the word ‘gay’ or consider adding protections on the basis of sexual orientation to its charter,” said Omar Sharif Jr., GLAAD’s National Spokesperson. “They have allowed Russian anti-LGBT leaders to ban LGBT athletes from gathering in a Pride House or even expressing support for LGBT people in Russia, placing LGBT athletes in a precarious situation in which they must choose between being open and honest, or being able to compete. This is an abdication of responsibility on the part of the IOC, which has yet to be corrected.”
Agreeing that more can be done to protect gay citizens, All Out proposed ways the committee can extend itself to ensure the security of gay athletes, visitors, and citizens.
“We believe this additional clarification is a step in the right direction, but the IOC can and should do more to guarantee that lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are not only safe, but are free to be who they are during the games,” Banks said. “The IOC explicitly says it does not interfere with local laws, but with billions of dollars at stake the IOC and Olympic sponsors are uniquely positioned to put pressure on Putin to end his anti-human rights crackdown.”