WASHINGTON -- Kazakhstan is heading toward passage of an anti-gay law as it competes to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, and a group of athletes wants the International Olympic Committee to pressure the country to drop the legislation.
Twenty-seven current and former Olympic, Paralympic and professional athletes have written a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach, asking him to ensure that the games' principles of nondiscrimination are upheld. The letter was organized by Athlete Ally, a group fighting for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in sports, and was signed by diver Greg Louganis, tennis player Martina Navratilova, hockey player Sean Avery and soccer players Megan Rapinoe and Robbie Rogers, among others.
"In light of Kazakhstan's aspirations to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and their recent consideration of legislation prohibiting 'propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation,' we urge the IOC to reiterate to Kazakh authorities that discrimination with regard to sexual orientation is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement," the athletes write.
Their case centers around Principle 6 of the Olympic charter, which the IOC amended in December to explicitly bar discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.
The charter now reads: "The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."
In February, the Kazakhstan Senate passed a measure barring "propaganda of a non-traditional sexual orientation," which appears to directly conflict with Principle 6.
Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said the Kazakhstan political system is extremely opaque, but the anti-gay bill "is thought to have passed the parliamentary system and awaits signature [from the president]."
Kazakhstan and China are the only two countries in the running to host the 2022 games, and this new anti-gay measure poses a test for the IOC on how it will implement the newly strengthened Principle 6.
"We were extremely proud to see the leadership of the IOC amend Principle 6 of the Olympic charter to include sexual orientation and believe these changes in principles will strengthen the Olympic movement for generations to come," add the athletes. "It is now time to call on Kazakhstan and any other country wishing to host the games, to put those principles into practice."
The measure in Kazakhstan resembles the Russian law that sparked international condemnation in 2013. By that time, Russia was already set to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. LGBT advocates called for a boycott or some other show of solidarity at the games. Athlete Ally and the international LGBT group All Out led a campaign to draw attention to the nondiscrimination promises enshrined in Principle 6, which at the time included protections "on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise."
"It is the choice of the Kazakh government to pass this law, just like it was the choice of the Russian government to pass the anti-gay law before the Olympics," said Worden. "A government choice to flout one of the core Olympic pillars of nondiscrimination should be answered by the IOC."
"I know what it's like to seek and achieve the Olympic dream," Louganis said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "But, if the Games are held in Kazakhstan with anti-gay laws on the books, like what we saw in Russia, that dream will be broken for athletes like me. I am signing this letter to urge President Bach and the IOC to take action so that history doesn't repeat itself and to stay true to Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter."
Read the full letter:
Dear President Bach,
The Olympic movement is built upon the fundamental principles of respect and inclusion and the belief that the experiences of athletes and fans should be free from discrimination of any kind. As current and former Olympic, Paralympic and professional athletes, we believe in the fundamental principles of Olympism and that maintaining the integrity of the Olympic movement requires potential host countries to abide by these Olympic ideals.
Under your leadership, non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been enshrined in the Olympic Charter and placed in the Olympic Host City contracts. The Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms you championed are a powerful step forward for the global sports community. However, implementation will be key.
In light of Kazakhstan’s aspirations to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and their recent consideration of legislation prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation,” we urge the IOC to reiterate to Kazakh authorities that discrimination with regard to sexual orientation is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.
The IOC is in a unique position as the global leader in sport to communicate to the Kazakh authorities that no discriminatory legislation should be adopted or implemented.
We were extremely proud to see the leadership of the IOC amend Principle 6 of the Olympic charter to include sexual orientation and believe these changes in principles will strengthen the Olympic movement for generations to come. It is now time to call on Kazakhstan and any other country wishing to host the games, to put those principles into practice.
Together in Sport,
Greg Louganis - 4X Olympic Gold Medalist, Olympic Silver Medalist, Diving, United States
Martina Navratilova - 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam doubles and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, Tennis, United States
Caryn Davies - 2X Olympic Gold Medalist, Olympic Silver Medalist, Rowing, United States
Mark Tewksbury - Olympic Gold Medalist, Olympic Silver Medalist, Olympic Bronze Medalist, Swimming, Canada
Esther Lofgren - Olympic Gold Medalist, Rowing, United States
Lori Lindsey - Olympic Gold Medalist, Soccer, United States
Megan Rapinoe - Olympic Gold Medalist, Soccer, United Stated
Lee Ford - ParaPan Am Gold Medalist, Archery, United States
Rennae Stubbs - Four-time Olympian, Tennis, Australia
Ji Wallace - Olympic Silver Medalist, Trampolining, Australia
Simona Meiler - Olympic Snowboarder, Switzerland
Callan Chythlook-Sifsof - Olympic Snowboarder, United States
Alex Duckworth - Olympic Snowboarder, Canada
Belle Brockhoff - Olympic Snowboarder, Australia
Carrie Sheinberg - Olympic Apline Skier, United States
Anastasia Bucsis - Olympic Speedskater, Canada
Andy Hrovat - Olympic Wrestler, United States
Jake Herbert - Olympic Wrestler, United States
TC Dantzler - Olympic Wrestler, United States
Eli Wolff - Paralympic Soccer Player, United States
Kenneth Faried - National Basketball Association, Denver Nuggets, United States
Robbie Rogers - Major League Soccer, LA Galaxy, United States
Sean Avery - National Hockey League, New York Rangers, United States
Joanna Lohman - National Women's Soccer League, Washington Spirit, United States
Sally Shipard - Women's National Soccer Team, Australia
Brock McClean - Australian Rules Football, Australia
Phaidra Knight - Women's National Rugby Team, United States
Eric Mitchell - Olympic Ski Jumper, Canada
UPDATE: 5/19/15 -- In a statement, IOC Communications Director Mark Adams responded, "It is our responsibility to make sure the Olympic Charter is fully respected for ALL participants of the Olympic Games. As part of Olympic Agenda 2020 we recently changed our Fundamental Principle 6 of the Charter to include an explicit bar on any form of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This clause is included in the Host City Contract which any city staging the Games must sign."
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