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Russia: Sochi Highlights Need for Olympic Reforms

Revise Host City Selection Process, Leading Rights Groups Say

(New York) – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should carry out a series of reforms to avoid the human rights abuses that tainted the Sochi Winter Games, 33 human rights groups said today in an joint letter to the IOC president, Thomas Bach. The IOC should reform the host city selection process and amend the Olympic Charter’s nondiscrimination principle to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories, the groups said.

The groups pointed to a worldwide wave of outrage spurred by Russia’s discriminatory anti- lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) laws, as well as other serious human rights abuses. A truly successful Olympics cannot be held in host countries that flagrantly violate the principles of “nondiscrimination,” “human dignity,” and other core tenets of the Olympic Charter, the groups said.

“The Sochi Olympics have brought cheers for the athletes, but jeers for the host country’s state-sponsored discrimination and other rights abuses,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “Only through long-term institutional reform of the Olympic Movement can similar human rights debacles be prevented at future Winter and Summer Games.”

Russia’s adoption of an anti-gay “propaganda” law in June 2013 sparked worldwide condemnation before and during the Sochi Games. The ensuing crackdown by Russian authorities on peaceful protests throughout the country further tarnished the country’s image at the very time it sought to burnish it as host country of the Winter Olympics.

Other rights abuses resulting directly from Russia’s preparations for the Sochi Games include the exploitation of workers on Olympic venues and other sites in Sochi, forced evictions of families to make way for construction of these sites, environmental and health hazards such cutting off the water supply for a nearby village, the harassment and jailing of activists, and the stifling of journalists’ efforts to document these abuses.

“The IOC and President Bach can and should learn important lessons from the anti-gay fiasco in Russia,” said Andre Banks, cofounder and executive director at All Out, an LGBT rights group. “Now is the time for the IOC to ensure this never happens again by making respect for the Olympic Principle of nondiscrimination a binding condition for all future Olympic host applications.”

The letter was signed by a wide range of international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Campaign, PEN, All Out, Athlete Ally, and the Russian LGBT Network. The complete list can be found at the end of the letter.

The groups called on the IOC to take the following steps:

  • Strengthen the Olympic Host City Bid process to include requirements that host countries do not have laws in place that discriminate on protected grounds and against groups, including LGBT people, in violation of international law. Host countries should also have effective mechanisms to impartially resolve human rights abuses linked to Olympic preparations in a timely and effective manner. The process of selecting a host country should include input and analysis from independent human rights organizations regarding the country’s human rights record;
  • Ensure that future host city contracts with governments include specific human rights pledges and a commitment not to introduce laws or policies that violate human rights law.The IOC should monitor these commitments closely. The contracts should include clear sanctions for a host country failing to respect these commitments, up to and including relocating the Games; and
  • Amend Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, prohibiting discrimination on a number of grounds, to include “sexual orientation and gender identity.” The principle currently states, “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

The Bach letter follows an earlier joint letter from 40 human rights and LGBT groups to 10 major corporate sponsors of the Sochi Games – Atos, Coca Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Visa – urging them to condemn Russia’s anti-LGBT “propaganda” law and to support the call for an IOC human rights committee or similar mechanism.

“There have been and always will be LGBT athletes training for and competing in the Olympic Games,” said Hudson Taylor, executive director of Athlete Ally, which works to end homophobia and transphobia in athletics. “To maintain the integrity of the Olympic movement, the IOC should turn its principles into practice and take meaningful measures to make sure future games are free from discrimination and human rights violations of any kind.”

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