A Russian gay sports festival, meant to have started in Moscow today, has been beset by a sudden rash of last minute venue cancellations that has put the event at risk.
Organised by the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, the first Open Games aims to promote “healthy lifestyles, physical activity and sports among the LGBT community and its supporters.”
On Tuesday, a day before its launch, four sporting venues cancelled their agreements with the organisers. The Hilton Hotel, where the Russian LGBT Network was planning to host a public round-table discussion, also cancelled the booking.
The organisers claimed on the Games’ website that the venues used “various pretexts” to justify the cancellations after they received “calls from the administration.”
“It is far beyond attempts to disrupt events by homophobic groups, but a targeted and strong decision of the authorities to not let public LGBT events happen through exerting pressure on venue owners,” said Anastasia Smirnova, one of the organisers.
She added that they were revising their plans and locations for the event, which was intended to run until the 2nd of March.
According to a report by GLAAD, anti-gay politician Vitaly Milonov may be behind the cancellations. He apparently wrote to Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, denouncing the Open Games and calling for their cancellation. Milonov famously championed a St Petersburg law that banned public displays of homosexuality, including any public support for LGBT rights, in order to “protect” minors.
The Open Games was set to feature eight competitions – in badminton, basketball, futsal, skiing, swimming, table tennis, tennis and volleyball – as well as other sports demonstrations, an exchange of experiences of organising sporting events in different regions of Russia, and discussions and round tables about the development of sports within the LGBT community.
Russia has been heavily criticised for its anti-gay policies. The city of Moscow has since 2006 repeatedly refused to allow gay Pride events to be held. In 2012, the courts enacted a hundred-year ban on gay Pride parades.
The country has also banned so called “gay propaganda” under a federal law that has been used to stifle free speech and block demonstrations and public events in support of LGBT equality. Same-sex couples and single people from countries that allow same-sex marriage have been barred from adopting Russian orphans.