International coalition of LGBT sport and human rights organizations call for International Olympic Committee to host Sochi Pride House

A broad group of international organizations and activists, including the largest international LGBT sports organizations, have begun a concerted effort to respond to a rising official and unofficial homophobia in Russia, and to call on the International Olympic Committee and other sports governing bodies to accept responsibility for the choice of hosts of the events they sanction. Among their first demands is that the IOC host a Pride House in Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympics. (see below the letter sent today to Jacques Rogge)

The sports leaders and activists, working closely with the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, reject calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Lou Englefield (Manchester), director of Pride Sports UK and coordinator of the group, said: “We believe in action that is concrete and goals that are attainable. We also believe in listening to our partners in Russia who tell us they don’t want a boycott. Athletes should not bear the burden of Putin’s homophobic regime and what is in effect the complicity of the IOC. A boycott punishes hard working athletes rather than challenging repression and those sports organisations which knowingly choose hosts that fail to respect the human rights proclaimed in their own charters.”

Marc Naimark (Paris) of the Federation of Gay Games stated: “We are heartened by the IOC’s recent declaration that they have received assurances from Russian authorities that the shameful homophobic laws will not be enforced in Sochi. While this is of little solace to the hundreds of thousands of LGBT Russians who will continue to suffer under repressive local and national laws, it should offer some relief to the foreign athletes competing in Sochi. The IOC does not speak of the officials, press, support staff or visitors, for whom the same protections are needed. And we remain skeptical as to the reality of these guarantees, all the more so following declarations of Russian politicians that the laws would indeed be enforced. We challenge the IOC to demonstrate its good faith by hosting under its aegis a Pride House in Sochi, open to all, athletes and visitors, gay and straight, Russian and foreign. If the IOC truly believes the assurances of Russian authorities, then the IOC should be able to override the existing ban on a Sochi Pride House and offer a venue for all to meet safely and with freedom of expression.”

David McFarland (Los Angeles) of United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment added: “Even if there is a Pride House, this does not mean that Sochi should be business as usual. Members of Pride House International have in the past called on LGBT athletes to be visible, and the homophobic laws mean that this call is more imperative than ever for the 2014 Olympics. We know that LGBT athletes are not alone in being revolted by these laws and the behavior of Russian authorities. We are planning actions to support visibility of opposition to Russian homophobia and to support the noble principle of sport for all enshrined in the Olympic Charter.”

Dean Nelson (Vancouver), founder of the first Pride House at the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver/Whistler spoke of the need to continue the process of true respect for the Olympic principle of sport for all: “Over the past four years since the 2010 Games, many sporting bodies have made tremendous headway in creating safer environments for our athletes and support staff to participate and focus on sport. No government, no politicians, can be allowed to turn back the clock. We all must defend our athletes, coaches and trainers to ensure they are able to participate free from discrimination of any sort including sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.”

Stephen Frost (London), former head of diversity and inclusion for LOCOG, the host committee for the 2012 Summer Olympics, stated: “We need to continue building long-term systemic change in the policy of sports governing bodies, starting with the most important of all, the International Olympic Committee. The IOC has made great strides to support inclusion in sport, but has only recently specified that sexual orientation discrimination is indeed unacceptable. A remaining tool at their disposal is to include sexual orientation alongside ethnicity and gender as protected under the Olympic Charter. This is something the Paralympic movement has already done”

Lou Englefield concluded: “Our letter to Jacques Rogge is just the first step in action on Sochi. We will be soon announcing other aspects of our campaign, including action that each and every person attending the Sochi Olympics can take part in to show the Russian authorities that their homophobic laws are unacceptable, and to show the IOC that it cannot choose hosts that flout the most basic human rights of freedom of expression and assembly.”

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