Olympics, Russia and the Human Family
July 31, 2013
Christophe De Kepper, Director General
International Olympic Committee
Château de Vidy
Dear Mr. De Kepper:
As you are aware, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that punishes people for disseminating information supportive of anything that is not a “traditional” heterosexual relationship. (This law applies to visitors to Russia as well as to Russians themselves. Indeed, four Dutch tourists making a film in Murmansk were arrested on July 21st under this law.
We wish to express our outrage at a law that so blatantly singles out a specific group of people and criminalizes both them and also their allies for so much as an expression of support of a most fundamental human right – sexual freedom.
Discrimination is antithetical to the Olympic spirit. Indeed, the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism”, expressed in the Olympic Charter, make it clear that respect for human rights and human dignity are at the core of the Olympic spirit. Principle #4 reads “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” Principle #6 clarifies that ”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.”
The 2014 Winter Olympics are to be held in Sochi, Russia. We at Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance cannot see how those games can be conducted according to the Principles of the Olympic Spirit, given this new Russian law. Under this law, Olympic athletes might be arrested for publicly acknowledging their legal spouses, for acknowledging their support for LGBT rights, or their support for LGBT teammates. Fans are similarly at risk. For the sake of Russians whose expressions of love are now criminalized, and for all those who might travel to Russia and find themselves at risk, we must clearly demonstrate our condemnation of this law.
This law has already disrupted the Olympic process. . The tradition of an Olympic Pride House, begun in 2010 in Vancouver, has been threatened. A Russian court upheld Russia’s denial of the Sochi Pride House registration as an NGO for these games
Human Rights Watch has called for the IOC to obtain a guarantee from the Russian government that, as Olympic Host, it will “ensure, without distinction, the safety and freedom of expression and association of all athletes, coaches, fans, and others who will attend the Sochi Games.” Further, Human Rights Watch calls for a clear public statement from the IOC regarding its support for LGBT rights, and calling on all Olympic hosts to demonstrate respect for the rights of all athletes, and for a reversal of Russia’s discriminatory laws. Finally, because this will not be the last time such an issue arrises, HRW calls for the formation by the IOC of “a standing mechanism to establish human rights benchmarks among Olympic host countries and monitor human rights in the preparations for and during the Olympic Games.” http://www.hrw.org/node/116598
We second each of these calls for change. The Olympic Movement is grounded in respect for human rights. Sexual freedom is a fundamental human right. The reason the call for a standing mechanism for monitoring human rights violations is important is that many nations have policies that violate fundamental human rights. It is important now because this law is new – a poke in the eye, if you will, to a specific population at the same time that policies around the world are becoming more consistent with international human rights treaties that recognize the fundamental right to sexual freedom.
We cannot allow silence to suggest tacit approval of this blatant disregard for the Olympic Movement and for human rights. This is a moment when the Olympic Committee can truly model values that would benefit a world in turmoil.
The original Olympics were an opportunity for humans to achieve acts of excellence to honor the gods. Today the Olympics provide a forum for the world to come together peacefully, mutually enjoying universal sport. We set aside all that we claim makes us different and come together – the human family for a humane effort.
We call upon you now in the spirit of the Olympics to honor the human family and refuse to allow any family members to be singled out for discrimination, imprisonment or any other punishment just for having brown or blonde hair – because really, Mr. DeKepper, it’s just as simple as that!
Ricci J. Levy
Executive Director, Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance