Posted February 13, 2014 by John Baintree in News

How Sochi Became the Gay Olympics

Sochi Gay Olympics
Sochi Gay Olympics

In 1982, 10 years after Stonewall saw the start of the gay rights campaign that would ultimately change the face of so much of western society, just under 1,500 athletes from 12 countries met together to celebrate the first Gay Games (the International Olympic Committee sued just before the first meeting to stop the use of the Olympic name). These athletes were meeting in the face of the onset of the AIDS crisis and the sporting organization they founded is still organizing 4 yearly games today.

Strangely though, the Olympics brand has once more been closely aligned with the gay movement with the Sochi games being branded the Gay Olympics. This time round the linking of Gay rights and sports is for a slightly different, if none the less unpleasant reason.

In the summer of 2013 gay rights came to the forefront of debate regarding the already politically charged 2014 Winter Olympics. Despite decriminalizing homosexuality in 1993, the Russian government has legislated to prevent “the dissemination of propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”. The new legislation makes it very difficult for all gay activists to present their causes. The Russian law is redolent of the Section 28 legislation brought in by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1988 that restricted the promotion of gay relationships by UK local authorities in their schools and other services. Putin’s attack on gay rights has since seen him signing further legislation that prevents the adopting of Russian children by gay couples outside of Russia.

If this was not dire enough, the Russian legislation is enacted against an extremely unpleasant backdrop of social alienation and discrimination that can only be described as criminal. Political commentators argue that Putin is only presenting such anti-gay legislation as a sop to the all-powerful Russian Orthodox Church. Whatever his domestic agenda, there is a serious question over how the International Olympic Committee can support the Russian position particularly given the stance of Principle Six in the Olympic Charter. The charter 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.” Strong stuff really, especially when you remember that in Ocotber2013 and in response to a 300,000 signature petition the IOC confirmed that Principle 6 does indeed apply on the grounds of sexual orientation.

How the International Olympic Committee can square their Principle with events on the ground in Russia but it is not without a hint of irony that the Games (nee Gay Olympics) and the Gay Olympics in Sochi seem to be so inextricably linked.