For the first time ever, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has met with LGBT sports organisations, ahead of Russia’s controversial Sochi Winter Games.
The meeting was facilitated by the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) and followed a previous promise made by newly elected IOC president Thomas Bach to meet the groups.
Saturday’s meeting took place in Paris and Bach spent more than an hour with LGBT sport organisations FGG and the Russian LGBT Sports Federations, whose representatives Elvina Yuvakaeva and Konstantin Yablotskiy were flown in for the day by the IOC.
While the meeting was described as historic, it appears that the IOC made little or no firm commitments to deal with the concerns raised by LGBT activists on the issues surrounding Russia’s hosting of the Games.
FGG co-president emeritus and VP for diversity Emy Ritt, however, highlighted that this was “the first time the Olympic Movement has recognised the existence and importance of LGBT sport”.
The meeting saw the groups bringing up the matter of hosting a safe space for LGBT people at the Sochi Games, along the lines of a Pride House, which has been banned by the Russian authorities. The activists said that they hope that the IOC will still be able to intervene in this regard.
Elvina Yuvakaeva, chair of the LGBT Open Games – which are set to take place in Moscow next year – also asked Bach to help her organisation obtain venues for the event and to offer it some protection from possible violence.
She warned: “It is very likely that these Open Games will be the last event in which Russian LGBT athletes will be able to take place in their own country.
“We fear that after the Olympics and Paralympics, when the attention of the world decreases, homophobic repression will become even worse.”
FGG VP for external affairs Marc Naimark revealed that there were “some indications of a possible change in Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter to explicitly include sexual orientation among the types of discrimination excluded from the Olympic Movement, alongside sex, religion, nationality, and so on.”
South African Olympian and Gay Games Ambassador Leigh Ann Naidoo expressed the importance of the meeting for athletes, insisting that it was “another big step to ensuring that the IOC recognise the issues facing LGBTIQA sports lovers, including Olympic athletes”.
However, despite repeated requests from activists it remains unclear if Bach will publicly denounce Russia’s reviled gay “propaganda” law.
Questions also remain as to the exact mechanics of how LGBT athletes and supporters will be treated at the Russian Games. For example, can supporters hold or wear rainbow flags or colours and what will happen to same-sex couples who show public affection during the event?