Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, refused to meet with representatives of a coalition of Russian LGBT organizations during his Sochi visit, offering a meeting in Lausanne instead. LGBT activists in Russia see this decision as yet another indicator that the Sochi Olympics are far from being a platform to uphold and promote the Olympic values.
The refusal to meet with LGBT activists in Sochi and the invitation to a discussion in Lausanne came more than two weeks after the first request of a meeting with the new IOC president during his first official visit to Russia. The request had been sent to the IOC by email on October 13 and through a formal letter on October 22 by the Russian LGBT Network, St Petersburg’s ‘Coming Out’, Side by Side LGBT Film Festival, Russian LGBT Sport Federation, Arkhangelsk’s ‘Rakurs’, and the Out Loud project. The six organizations sought to discuss with President Bach ways the IOC can ensure observance of the non-discrimination clause of the Olympic Charter, in particular – commit to the respect of rights and human dignity of LGBT athletes and visitors through establishing a ‘Pride House’ in Sochi.
The Olympic Charter does not allow for any form of discrimination against a country or a person, including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Russia, the host country of the 2014 Winter Games, already enforces a special discriminatory regime, where inequality based on sexual orientation is expressly inscribed in official policies and law, namely – the legislation on ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.’
Both the IOC and the Russian authorities have repeatedly voiced assurances that the Olympics will welcome everyone regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, and that non-discrimination is guaranteed at the Sochi games. ‘However, it is now impossible to imagine an inclusive event where rights and human dignity of all are respected,’ says Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson and coordinator of the Russian coalition. ‘The law on ‘propaganda’ is discriminatory and degrading in its nature, suggesting that LGBT people are dangerous to children, families, and society, and that it is the responsibility of the authorities to protect other citizens from us. It is crucial to discuss and define concretely how implementation of the non-discrimination principles will be ensured in such climate. The refusal by Thomas Bach to meet with LGBT organizations in Sochi is disappointing, but we are glad that this discussion with the IOC will still take place.’
In response to the invitation to a meeting with Thomas Bach in Lausanne, the Russian LGBT organizations suggested to the IOC to set a firm date until the end of next week and are now negotiating the schedules.
The Russian LGBT Network, St Petersburg LGBT organization ‘Coming Out’, Side by Side LGBT Film Festival, Russian LGBT Sport Federation, Arkhangelsk LGBT organization ‘Rakurs’, and the Out Loud project formed the coalition with the purpose of ensuring that discrimination and violence against LGBT persons in Russia are not silenced in view of the Olympic games, that communities in Russia and the Olympic visitors are protected, and that the established Olympic principles of respect of human dignity and non-discrimination are upheld by the host country.