In February 2014, I traveled to Sochi, Russia for a meeting that didn’t exist yet. As project manager for the City of Vancouver’s Host City Pride Mission, I accompanied City Councillor Tim Stevenson on our quest to get a meeting with the IOC.
Our goal – to convince the IOC, in the face of Russian state-sponsored homophobic laws, intimidation and discrimination, that they needed to include “sexual orientation” in their 6th Fundamental Principle of Olympism. While “Principle 6”, as it is better known, serves to protect Olympic participants “on the grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise”, protection for LGBTQ people was not explicitly enshrined – leaving the door open for Russia to host the Olympic Games while enforcing discriminatory laws.
We sent off a meeting request letter to IOC President Thomas Bach, and to a host of other Olympic and international sport officials, but heard nothing for weeks. Then, upon arrival in Sochi, our meeting with the IOC was confirmed.
After an hour with two senior IOC officials, we felt immensely hopeful leaving that meeting. The IOC understood our concerns and let us know that Olympic Agenda 2020 would provide a forum to initiate needed change to Olympic policies. But there were no guarantees that sexual orientation would be added to the Olympic Charter.
We were just one voice – with some minor influence as the prior Host City. But during the 2014 Games a movement began. Hosting an Olympic Games while demonstrating obvious discrimination to a minority that exists the world over was too much for many people. Voices cried out against this gross contradiction through social media, on-line campaigns, sponsor lobbying and human rights organizations. Soon some National Olympic Committees joined the cry to include sexual orientation in Principle 6. And the IOC listened.
When Tim and I left Sochi, we were hopeful. As time went on and other issues hit the news cycle, we became less hopeful. It appeared that Principle 6 was out of the news and off the radar. But the voices that started in Sochi continued to speak out, lobbied international sport leadership and sent submissions to the IOC. Each individual voice added up to many and the impact of this movement for greater LGBTQ inclusion appears to have paid off.
This happened yesterday:
Office of the Mayor November 18, 2014
Statement by the Mayor regarding IOC human rights decision
“Today’s decision by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to recommend including ‘non-discrimination on sexual orientation in the 6th Fundamental Principle of Olympism’ is an important victory for human rights and LGBTQ inclusion in sport.
“Led by City Councillor Tim Stevenson, Vancouver’s Host City Pride Mission in Sochi had the primary goal of enshrining the rights of LGBTQ athletes into Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, building on part of Vancouver’s Olympic legacy as the first host city to feature a Pride House for LGBTQ athletes, coaches, spectators and other visitors. Councillor Stevenson and former VANOC official Maureen Douglas met with the International Olympic Committee for over an hour in Sochi, after significantly raising awareness on the world stage.
“We can all be proud of the significant role Vancouver played in successfully advocating for this progress. Discrimination has no place in the Olympic movement or in any country’s laws, and the City of Vancouver will continue to support LGBTQ rights, inclusion, and equality at every turn.” ~ Mayor Gregor Robertson
The full set of IOC President Thomas Bach’s recommendations can be found here: http://www.olympic.org/Documents/Olympic_Agenda_2020/Olympic_Agenda_2020-20-20_Recommendations-ENG.pdf
Every person who speaks up at a meeting, writes a letter to the editor, casts their vote in an election, or steps up to help a cause becomes part of a collective force for change. It works. Don’t ever underestimate your individual power to make collective change happen. And a heartfelt thanks to everyone who raised their voice for this cause. Your voice mattered.