1 August 2013
Mr. Jacques Rogge, President
International Olympic Committee
Château de Vidy
Case postale 356
Sir Philip Craven, President
International Paralympic Committee
Dear Mr. Rogge and Sir Craven,
The International Olympic Committee needs to take immediate action to ensure that the Olympic Games are open to all, including lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) athletes and spectators.
The IOC set a precedent on human rights in sport when it banned South Africa from participating in the Olympics in 1964, to protect the Games from racial discrimination and ensure that all athletes were free to compete.
I urge you to ban those nations that criminalize—and particularly those that execute—citizens solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. I also call on you to ban Russia from participating in the 2016 Summer Games if it does not act expediently to retract its oppressive anti-gay legislation in advance of the Sochi Games. These laws preclude an Olympic Games that is open and free to all, in line with the Olympic tradition.
Many nations that participate in the Olympic Games have enacted discriminatory laws that aim to imprison or kill LGB people. These laws have the effect of denying LGB athletes from those countries the opportunity to participate in the games. Currently, 81 countries that criminalize homosexuality and 7 that impose the death penalty for homosexuality (Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) participate in the Summer Games. Two countries that criminalize homosexuality (Pakistan, Uzbekistan) and several more with extremely discriminatory policies (such as Russia) participate in the Winter Games.
The effects of these nations’ discriminatory laws are apparent. In 2012, there was not a single openly LGB athlete sent from any of the 81 participating countries that criminalize homosexuality. It is hard to estimate how many athletes were unable or unwilling to participate because of the discrimination they faced in their country. It is also unknown how many athletes had to deal with the pressures of hiding their sexual orientation in addition to competing in the games. This additional pressure greatly disadvantages athletes forced to hide an integral part of who they are. Marian Lay, a two-time Canadian Olympic swimmer who won a bronze medal in the 1968 Mexico City Games, has stated that she experienced pressure to hide her sexual orientation, and feared losing sponsors, being abandoned by her coach, and being shunned by teammates. However, athletes from countries that use their laws to persecute LGB people have far more at stake. In the case of 7 participating nations, they risk being executed.
In responding to concerns over Russia’s anti-gay laws, the IOC has reaffirmed its commitment to inclusion, stating that the “Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course the athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle.”
The IOC must take immediate action to protect this principle and ensure that the Games be open to all and free from discrimination. I urge you to follow the precedent set by the IOC’s principled opposition to racial discrimination, and impose a ban on countries that criminalize homosexuality and imprison or murder their LGB citizens, to ensure that the Olympic Games are free from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Cc The Hon. John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada,
Mr. Marcel Aubut, President, Canadian Olympic Committee, and
Ms. Karen O’Neill, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Paralympic Committee.