Society

International Olympics Committee Yielding To Russia's Anti-Gay Legislation

| by Jonathan Wolfe
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By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of Russia’s new anti-gay legislation, which states that it is illegal to “promote” homosexuality in Russia. The language of the legislation is so broad that even identifying one’s self as a homosexual could be grounds for imprisonment.

Since the new laws were enacted, many have wondered how the Olympics would handle LGBT athletes at next year’s 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia.

Last week, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) reported that they received “assurances” from the Russian government that the law would not be applied to visiting athletes in February. But Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko spoke to the media this week, and said that all athletes and visitors would have to adhere to the country’s anti-gay laws during the Olympics. Russia’s Interior Ministry unequivocally backed up Mutko’s statement.

Many LGBT athletes plan to wear gay pride apparel at the upcoming games. Gay Star News recently asked the IOC what their stance would be the apparel in light of Russia’s laws. Here is their response:

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“Regarding your suggestions, the IOC has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration. This rule has been in place for many years and applied when necessary. In any case, the IOC would treat each case individually and take a sensible approach depending on what was said or done.”

The IOC’s response has disappointed many. Gay rights advocates accuse the committee of applying Rule 50 differently in light of Russia’s legislation than they have in the past, when the Olympics have been used as a platform for human rights advocacy (think John Carlos and Tommie Smith in 1968, when they raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand).

The IOC also said that no Pride House would be provided in the Olympic Village for athletes at the 2014 games as one was at 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Once again, the IOC cited Rule 50 as the reason that a Pride House would not be provided. But if a Pride House didn’t violate Rule 50 four years ago, why does it now? Decisions like this are why many are criticizing the IOC of giving in to Russia’s anti-gay legislation.

This issue is more than just a human rights conflict. It’s become a competition issue as well. If LGBT athletes are constantly worried about being mugged or imprisoned during the games, how could they possibly have the same level of focus at the games as their worry-free heterosexual competitors? This, along with a basic dedication to human rights, is why the IOC needs to take a stance against Russia’s law. 

Sources: Huffington Post, Think Progress