The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has come under fire from GLBT activists, who say countries with anti-gay laws on their books should be barred from the upcoming Games.
The activists propose that up to 75 countries – mostly from Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East – be stricken from the line-up for human rights violations.
“The argument that politics and sport don’t mix is pretty misguided,” British human rights lawyer Mark Stephens says.
“Discrimination is a human rights issue and to suggest that human rights are merely political is to fundamentally misunderstand their role in helping the vulnerable and disenfranchised.”
In bolstering his argument, Stephens uses the examples of the IOC’s banning of South Africa from 1964 to 1992 for its discriminatory racial laws, as well as the 2000 banning of Afghanistan for discrimination against women.
“Brotherhood, dignity and fairness, those laudable sporting values, could not be complicit in flagrant discrimination,” he says of those decisions.
“The Olympics present a unique opportunity to put GLBT rights front and centre. London 2012 will be the world’s biggest sporting event and the city has an opportunity to leave a lasting humanitarian legacy of LGBT rights.”
Stephens also suggests that GLBT contestants in the Games who fear being ‘out’ in their home countries apply for asylum in the UK – a proposal that has the backing of prominent GLBT activist Peter Thatchell.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International has also weighed in on the controversy, asking the IOC to cast a closer eye on the matter.
“The games would be badly depopulated if you exclude every government with a bad human rights record,” says Marianne Mollmann, a policy advisor for the organisation. “But we certainly feel the IOC should be more vocal about these issues and bring them up actively with governments where it’s clear there are serious violations.”
IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau says the Olympic Charter states that “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”.
However, she would not say if the IOC would be pursuing the activists’ proposals further.
(Image: Gay Australian diver Matthew Mitcham at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.)