There has been a growing amount of discussion of how the Olympics may or may not be affected by the anti-LGBT laws enacted in Russia, a year before the Sochi Winter Olympic games. Should there be a boycott, to call attention to these laws and the plight of Russians who are affected by them? Would it be better to attend, compete, and (a la Jesse Owens in Berlin or John Carlos in Mexico City) use the games to make a political statement about equality and justice? (See Dave Zirin here.) Activists argue over the right strategic approach, and athletes argue about whether this would make them into pawns.
I’m a college coach who has sent athletes to each of the past three summer Olympic Games, and has two actively training for the next quadrenium. I’m also a doctoral candidate in history, writing a dissertation on gender, sexuality, autocratic states and mass violence in the 20th century. And I’m an openly gay Quaker with a strong set of values about social justice.
He puts those values and that experience to good use, with a very thought-provoking piece. He is well aware of the power dynamics involved in the Olympics, from the team level to the international. One part of his writing stood out very strongly to me:
In sports where selection can be political, or where team chemistry is important, however, athletes are often loathe to make themselves an issue. Many gay, lesbian and bisexual elite athletes will, understandably, therefore, choose to just keep quiet when their own “issue” gets increasingly hot. Instead of asking the national team coaches, high performance managers and executive directors what might (or might not) be transpiring, they will keep their heads down and keep training. Too much is at stake.
That critical voices in the discussions about potential boycott of Sochi—those of gay, lesbian and bisexual athletes aiming to compete there—will be largely absent from the debate should not be surprising then. In general, the outspoken voices will either be gay activists who may have little knowledge of elite athletics, or straight athletes and officials who may have scant knowledge of LGBT issues.
It is vital, therefore, that US sport leaders—the USOC and the heads of the eight winter sport national federations (Biathlon, Bobsled and Skeleton, Curling, Figure Skating, Hockey, Luge, Ski and Snowboard, and Speedskating)—take a forthright stand on principal.
Now. So that athletes can worry about training.
That makes a lot of sense. Sadly, we’ve gotten *crickets* from them.
But Sullivan’s piece made me wonder just who these folks are and what they believe.
René Fasel is a former hockey player and referee, who moved on into dentistry as well as becoming the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation [IIHF]. Now Fasel serves as the head of the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF), and also as a member of the Executive Committee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). I got to thinking: what does the IIHF have to say about discrimination, equality, and justice in their bylaws?
Here’s the answer, from the preamble to the IIHF Statutes and Bylaws [pdf]:
The International Ice Hockey Federation is dedicated to the worldwide growth and development of ice hockey and In-line hockey, providing exemplary leadership and governance by diligently observing the principles of democracy, fairness, solidarity and transparency for its Member National Associations . . .Every ice hockey player in Member National Associations of the International Ice Hockey Federation has the right to participate in a safe, positive and enjoyable environment and to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness in the process. The International Ice Hockey Federation and each of its Member National Associations do not accept and will not tolerate harassment, abuse or violence in any of its many forms, and particularly where people in positions of responsibility unfairly exercise their power and authority over others.
That’s pretty strong language. Too bad it’s in conflict with the new laws of Russia as signed by President Putin relating to LGBTs, or those of any sexual orientation who want to stand up for them. It’s certainly in conflict with the vigilante beatings and assaults that are apparently going unpunished.
And what about those other winter sports federations?
From the World Curling Federation constitution, Article 6(c) [find the document in the menu and click the download link to access)]
Any form of discrimination with regard to a Member Association, or a person, on the grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or any other harassment, is incompatible with membership of the WCF.
Not bad. It certainly seems as if a curler who wanted to wave a rainbow flag or blow a kiss to a same-sex partner in the stands would be protected from sanctions by that, if not by Russian law. Next?
International Biathlon Union [pdf], Article 1:
1.1 International Biathlon Union The International Biathlon Union (IBU) is the association of the nations of the world participating in biathlon and of other organizations interested in the sport of biathlon and sports similar to it such as roller biathlon, cross biathlon and mountain bike biathlon (summer biathlon). Through the friendly and dedicated cooperation of all the organizations, athletes and sports officials practicing the sport of biathlon, the IBU shall contribute to the creation of a peaceful world. In accordance with the principles of the United Nations, no discrimination of any country or person on the grounds of race, religion, gender or political affiliation is allowed within the IBU.
Let’s hear it for the creation of a peaceful world. Maybe Russia and its treatment of LGBTs would be a good place to give it a shot. (rimshot) Next?
The International Skating Union [ISU] [pdf], which governs both figure skating and speed skating, says this in Article 3, Section 3:
InterferenceThe ISU does not approve of interference in its sports based on political or any other grounds and will make every effort to avoid such interference.
On paper at least, it sounds like the ISU would not take kindly of laws that say “your kind of people” aren’t allowed into Russia, and thus can’t compete. Next?
4.1 The FIS is neutral. The FIS does not allow any discrimination of and by a National Ski Association, a club or an individual member for political, racial or religious reasons.
I’m sensing a pattern here . . . Next?
1.5 Purposes . . . To recognize only such luge competitions which were staged according to the Statutes and Regulations of the FIL and to guarantee that these Statutes and Regulations are observed during such competitions;
1.6.2 The FIL will not tolerate political, racist, religious, or any other discrimination towards its members.
Hmmm . . . not only will they not tolerate discrimination, but they promise to recognize only such competitions where that same standard is met. Sounds bad for Russia, if the FIL follows through on that. Next?
International Bobsleigh and Toboggan Federation [FIBT] Statutes [pdf], Article 3.7
To recognise only those competitions which comply with the Statutes and the Rules of FIBT and to ensure that those Statutes and Rules are observed at such competitions.
The FIBT Code of Ethics [pdf] goes further, spelling things out a bit more directly in section 4: Equality and Dignity
No discrimination by gender, race, marital status, religion, disability or political opinion shall be allowed in the selection and use of technical personnel, employees, collaborators, managers, or any other person who performs duties in either an operational or representative capacity. Individual dignity must always be safeguarded, and no form of discrimination or harassment shall be permitted. Likewise, in the preparation of elections or appointments, no discrimination of any type shall be tolerated. The same principle must apply to any sporting regulation.
Dignity is in, and discrimination AND harassment are both out?
I’ve got to say, it’s not looking good for Sochi here, if these winter sports federations decide to live up to their own constitutions, bylaws, and codes of ethics.
And then there’s the language from chapter 1, rule 2 of the Olympic Charter that describes the role of the IOC itself (with emphasis added):
The mission of the IOC is to promote Olympism throughout the world and to lead the Olympic Movement. The IOC’s role is:
1. To encourage and support the promotion of ethics in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned;
2. To encourage and support the organisation, development and coordination of sport and sports competitions;
3. To ensure the regular celebration of the Olympic Games;
4. To cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace;
5. To take action in order to strengthen the unity and to protect the independence of the Olympic Movement;
6. To act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement;
7. To encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women;
8. To lead the fight against doping in sport;
9. To encourage and support measures protecting the health of athletes;
10. To oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes;
11. To encourage and support the efforts of sports organisations and public authorities to provide for the social and professional future of athletes;
12. To encourage and support the development of sport for all;
13. To encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues, to promote sustainable development in sport and to require that the Olympic Games are held accordingly;
14. To promote a positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities and host countries;
15. To encourage and support initiatives blending sport with culture and education;
16. To encourage and support the activities of the International Olympic Academy (IOA) and other institutions which dedicate themselves to Olympic education.
Later on, the Olympic Charter talks about the symbols of the Olympics — the flag, the interlocking rings, etc. — and their use. Section 4.10.4 is rather important:
The use of an Olympic emblem must contribute to the development of the Olympic Movement and must not detract from its dignity; any association whatsoever between an Olympic emblem and products or services is prohibited if such association is incompatible with the Fundamental Principles of Olympism or the role of the IOC as set out in the Olympic Charter.
I’d say that harassment, beatings, threat of arrest, and imprisonment or expulsion from the country qualify as “incompatible” with promoting peace and acting against discrimination, wouldn’t you?
Every single one of these sport federations has on their books non-discrimination statements of one kind or another. Some, like the IIHF, are much stronger than others like the ISU, but all of them have at their core a belief that those who compete should not face sanction or discrimination or beatings or arrest based on who they are or what they believe.
The silence from the heads of these federations is deafening. What would it take, I wonder, for René Fasel to speak up on behalf of hockey players who are gay or who stand up for their gay colleagues, or for the fans of hockey who are opposed to discrimination and gay-bashing? Fasel wouldn’t even have to write a speech — he could just read from the IIHF’s constitution:
Every ice hockey player in Member National Associations of the International Ice Hockey Federation has the right to participate in a safe, positive and enjoyable environment and to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness in the process.
By that measuring stick, Sochi has absolutely no business hosting the Ice Hockey portion of the 2016 Winter Olympics.
None. At. All.
And if Fasel & Co. start speaking up, maybe the mayor of Vancouver would make an offer to the IOC that they couldn’t refuse, with one simple message: Move the Games.
(Cross-posted at PoliCyBear)
Image released under Public Domain