AKSARBENT publishes this guest post both unviolated and with written permission. It has also appeared on Advocate.com (which reports that Cher turned down a gig to open the Sochi Olympics) and Slate.com. It was cowritten by Mark Naimark, vice president for external affairs for the Federation of Gay Games (the Gay Games governing body,) and by Charley Sullivan, a member of Equality Coaching Alliance. and the associate head coach of men’s rowing at the University of Michigan. Also: how Sochi officials will break gay "propaganda" law each time they play U.S. national anthem during a medal ceremony
Unrelated: Red Army Choir sings Happy [but not gay]Together with Finnish band, the Leningrad Cowboys:
Many of the people anxious to avoid making waves during the 2014
Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games speak of the need to respect
Russian laws, even the dreadful laws repressing the freedom of
expression of LGBT people and their allies.
Some base this stance on the argument that athletes are “guests” of
their Russian “hosts” and that when you are a guest in someone’s home,
you respect the rules of the house. Before a very welcome and sincere
change of heart, U.S. runner Nick Symmonds compared the diplomatic
silence he planned to keep at the recent World Athletics Championship in
Moscow to visiting a family and not telling the parents how to raise
their children. More recently, U.S. figure skater Jeremy Abbott has been
quoted as saying, “Russia is hosting us. I'm not going to go into
somebody's house and be like, 'Um, the way you decorate is hideous, and
you need to completely redo this or I'm never coming back.' It's a
little rude, so I don't want to say bad things about a country that's
hosting the world, essentially.”
It’s a pretty lousy analogy.
The Olympic organizing committees are not hosts; they are not heads
of households. No athlete asked for the privilege of competing in Sochi
specifically. It was the Russians who requested the privilege of
organizing the 2014 Winter Olympics for the benefits they felt the games
would provide, not out of altruistic hospitality.
When you choose to visit a foreign country as a tourist or on
business, you do indeed accept that you will have to obey its laws and
customs. You are a guest; the nation is your host. On this basis, many
of us have a list of countries we simply will not visit, both because we
don’t wish to provide financial support to an unjust regime and we want
to avoid having to comply with intolerable laws.
But it’s not as if those thousands of athletes in Sochi will be a
bunch of wandering ski bums who just happen to find themselves on the
shores of the Black Sea in February. The athletes (and coaches and
trainers and support staff) have no choice whatsoever on the venue of
the Olympics. If they want to compete, they must go there and nowhere
While she may want to respect her mother-in-law’s tastes when she
heads to her home for Thanksgiving, an athlete should not receive
threats from her national sports federation about the color she paints
her nails. While public displays of affection may not always be
appropriate in a fine restaurant, a skater should be able to embrace his
husband when he wins a gold medal. And any person present in Sochi
should be able to take the hand of any other person of any gender in the
spirit of the Olympic Charter.
Clients and Suppliers
If not “host” and “guest,” what is
the relationship of the International Olympic Committee to Russia and
of Olympians to the country of the local organizing committee?
Russia sought the privilege of organizing the 2014 Winter Olympic
Games. When the country won its bid, it signed on to the values and
principles of the IOC, including Principle 4 (sport is a human right)
and Principle 6 (no discrimination in sport) of the Olympic Charter. The
government of Russia signed a contract with the IOC, and the IOC needs
to enforce that contract.
The financial interests of the IOC are protected, because the
contract allows it to assure its own sponsors that they will have
visibility and exclusive rights for the games. Part of the requirements
for bidders and hosts is ensuring that those rights are protected: there
is a section in each Olympic evaluation report on the bidding country's
legislative status. The focus of this is the execution of the games,
and more important, the protection of the IOC sponsors' marketing
If this were merely a business arrangement between the IOC and the
local organizing committee, there would be little more to say: There's a
contract, and the economic interests of both parties are defined and
Where this model fails is in the IOC's definition of its own
interests. It needs to look beyond its corporate needs and remember that
it exists to promote sport and the values of sport. It may not have
clients of its own, but it does have stakeholders, the most important of
which should be the world's athletes.
When the IOC calls sport a human right in the Olympic Charter, it
seems to understand that its raison d'être goes beyond signing contracts
with local organizing committees. The charter is an implicit part of
the contract, and it needs to be enforced. In the case of Sochi, this
means the IOC must stop claiming to be satisfied by Russian declarations
that the law doesn't ban gay athletes, but only those who talk about
being gay, or that the law is not discriminatory because it applies to
everyone “promoting nontraditional relationships.” The fact that
antimiscegenation laws applied to both blacks and whites did not make
them any less racist, and unless you think homosexuals are dangerous,
there is no reason to “protect” children from them.
Even at the time of the contract, Russia did not satisfy the
requirements of the Olympic Charter. And once it became clear that
athletes, the stakeholders in the Olympic movement, were at risk, the
IOC needed to be firmer and seriously use the threat of a ban on Russian
athletes, a move to another city, or cancellation of the games to force
This is hard for the IOC. But it cannot brandish morally potent words
like “human rights” and “discrimination” and then claim they mean
nothing when it comes time to act. There is still time to change things
in Sochi. The IOC needs to show its commitment to equality by hosting a
Pride House in Sochi. It needs to make clear that demonstrations of LGBT
identity and solidarity will be accepted and supported.
While the selection process for 2020 is almost over, it is not too
late to incorporate meaningful protections for all athletes in the
contract between the host of these Summer Olympics and the IOC. And it
is certainly not too late for the IOC to incorporate human rights and
inclusion for all in its future selection processes and in the legal
mechanisms for enforcing its contractual rights.
The IOC's own contractual partners need to use their commercial power
to make this happen. IOC sponsors need to make clear that they will not
continue to risk their brand with a partner that fails to act in their
And if despite this, the IOC is unable or unwilling to write a decent
contract or enforce its contractual rights, maybe athletes should just
take their business elsewhere.
What Can You Do?
House International has launched the Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative,
which invites everyone present in Sochi, including athletes, staff,
vendors, spectators, and press, to take every opportunity to hold hands
with a person of the same sex. For more information visit
PrideHouseInternational.org. You can help spread the word by posting
your own photo holding hands to the campaign photo blog, Hold Hands In Sochi.