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A rainbow of uncertainty


A rainbow of uncertainty

A common theme on the Platform is the power of sport in bringing people together. We work on the premise that sport can help overcome differences, bridge cultural divides and cultivate unlikely friendships. How should we respond, then, when sport does not do these things?

Controversial law

A topic that has received a lot of attention in the media, as of late, is the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The recent backlash surrounding Russia’s anti-gay legislation has led to cries of protest around the globe, from rainbow painted pedestrian crossings and fingernails to calls from activists, athletes and politicians to boycott the games.

Russia’s defence

The controversial law fuelling these protests was signed in June by President Vladmir Putin. The law bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations around minors.” The Russian government says the law is designed to protect children and does not discriminate against gay people. However critics say it is intended to suppress homosexuality and infringe on freedom of expression. And they are worried about how the law will be interpreted at Sochi.

Russian response

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has asked Russia to clarify the law and how it might be put into practice during the 2014 Games. In a letter to the IOC, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak stated that Russia will comply with the Olympic Charter’s non-discrimination policy, and that the law applies to everyone and, “cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

However, President Putin signed a decree earlier this week banning any and all protests during the Sochi Olympics, which will prevent human and gay rights groups from protesting against Russia’s anti-gay legislation.

And us?
A major aim of sport at the local level is to increase understanding and dialogue between people of different races, cultures, sexual orientations and religions. But what is the role of sport on the international stage?

As practitioners within sport and development perhaps we should use the backdrop of Sochi 2014 as an opportunity to clarify what we believe in.

Should athletes be allowed to use international events like the Olympics and the World Cup as a platform to promote their political beliefs? Or should they be made to stay quite and follow the rules of their host country?

What standards should international sports organisations be held to? Should FIFA and the IOC only select host countries that have a strong human rights record? Or does selecting hosts with poor human rights records draw more attention to these issues?

In the words of Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, “The Olympic Charter is clear. A sport is a human right and it should be available to all, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation.” The recent legislation in Russia clearly disregards these values. Hopefully the international attention created by Russia’s hosting of Sochi 2014 will help to spur change for Russia’s gay community and eventually overturn the government’s discriminatory law.


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Kate Heller


Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 12:00