The Federation of Gay Games announced Dec. 2 that it had facilitated and participated in a historic first meeting between the International Olympic Committee and LGBT sports organizations.
The meeting follows a promise made by newly elected IOC president Thomas Bach during his first official visit last October to Sochi, Russia, site of he 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Russian LGBT organizations, including FGG member organization the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, had solicited a meeting during this visit to discuss actions needed from the IOC in response to Russian anti-gay laws. Bach was unavailable during that visit, but stated that a meeting would take place elsewhere at a later date.
The meeting in question took place on Saturday, 30 November, in Paris, where Bach was present for the 100th anniversary of the FIE ( world fencing federation ). Bach is himself an Olympic medalist in fencing, and his incoming chief of staff Jochen Faerber is the director of the German national training center for fencing. Despite a busy schedule, which included a meeting with French president FranÃ§ois Hollande, Bach spent more than an hour with LGBT sport organizations FGG and Russian LGBT Sports Federations, whose representatives Elvina Yuvakaeva and Konstantin Yablotskiy were flown in for the day by the IOC. Accompanying Bach were Faerber and IOC director of communications Mark Adams.
Present for the FGG were its co-president emeritus and VP for diversity Emy Ritt and FGG VP for external affairs Marc Naimark, both residents of Paris. Ritt was impressed by the change in attitude from the IOC: "We are very grateful for this historic meeting, which represents the first time the Olympic Movement has recognized the existence and importance of LGBT sport. For our first meeting to be with the president of the IOC himself is very significant. All parties expressed the hope and expectation that this would be the first of many encounters to promote our common goals of inclusion in sport."
Konstantin Yablotskiy recalled the key issues with regard to Sochi: "We expressed our desire for a safe space for LGBT people at the Sochi Games. At the Vancouver and London Olympics, Pride Houses were organized by the LGBT sports community, but in Sochi, our government has banned such initiatives. We still hope that the IOC will be able to intervene to demonstrate its commitment to sport for all and to the values of the Olympic Charter."
Naimark added: "We were pleased to hear some indications of a possible change in Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter to explicitly include sexual orientation among the types of discrimination excluded from the Olympic Movement, alongside sex, religion, nationality, and so on. The FGG launched its campaign for such change at opening ceremony of Gay Games VIII in 2010, but we know that beyond such symbolic gestures, there needs to be real action. We hope that the IOC will continue to support the efforts the FGG has begun with our partners in Pride House International to invite National Olympic Committees to host Pride House events at their Sochi hospitality houses."
Elvina Yuvakaeva is the chair for the Russian Open Games. "We explained to Mr Bach our increasing difficulties in obtaining venues for our sporting events, in particular for our first international tournament, the Open Games, which we will be hosting in Moscow in the period between the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We fear that after the Olympics and Paralympics, when the attention of the world decreases, homophobic repression will become even worse, with, for example, the reintroduction of the bill to remove children from gay parents. It is very likely that these Open Games will be the last event in which Russian LGBT athletes will be able to take place in their own country. We requested a letter of support from Mr Bach, both to help to obtain venues, and to offer some protection from the violence we fear we may face, fears heightened by the events at the Side by Side film festival in St Petersburg."
South African Olympian and Gay Games Ambassador Leigh Ann Naidoo expressed the importance of this meeting for athletes: "The Olympic Pride House initiative was a big step towards ensuring that a safe space was created at the Olympics, the second largest sporting event in the world for LGBTIQA athletes after the Gay Games. The first meeting between the IOC and the FGG and other LGBTIQA groups is another big step to ensuring that the IOC recognize the issues facing LGBTIQA sports lovers, including Olympic athletes. International sports organizations and umbrella structures like the IOC need to lead by example when fighting discrimination of all sorts including discrimination as a result of sexual orientation. I look forward to seeing the IOC engage more on LGBTIQA issues and will be following with interest and concern the Sochi Winter Olympics, as will millions of other people from around the world passionate about the human adventure of sport."
Ritt noted the desire of the IOC to continue to engage with LGBT sport organizations. "We appreciate President Bach's courage and leadership in making this meeting happen. For the Gay Games, born in conflict with the Olympic Movement, this evolution is particularly meaningful. We will be inviting both the president of the USOC and the IOC to join us in Cleveland and Akron this August for the 2014 Gay Games. To see them there would be a fantastic sign that the Olympic Movement truly does value our principles of our motto: "Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best."
For information about the Federation of Gay Games, visit www.gaygames.org .
The ninth edition of the quadrennial Gay Games will be held in Cleveland + Akron, OH 9-16 August , 2014. For information about Gay Games 9, Cleveland 2014, visit www.gg9cle.com .