The latest reports regarding preventive exclusion of athletes during the Olympic Games 2014 in Sochi are nothing short of scandalous and overshadow by far any other improper actions of international sports organizations. It is the perverse zenith of associational opportunism of a mock democracy, where civil rights are arbitrarily and flagrantly trampled on – before the eyes of the global community. Out of pure fear, the IOC is caving in and tearing down the thin veil of its own inherent homophobia. The threatened arrest of athletes for violating the „Law against homosexual propaganda“ would disturb the rose-colored, anodyne sport coverage (beyond, of course, reports on the usual doping scandals to which we are now accustomed) resulting in a negative impact on the marketing of the Games. There is no doubt that the Russian government would enforce the „Law against homosexual propaganda“ against foreign athletes and punish them with fines accordingly. The Kremlin bosses would surely find it far easier to ignore the potential uproar than the fury of the US government regarding the asylum of Edward Snowden. The primary motive of the IOC is obvious: even our own athletes will not be allowed to disturb our immaculate Olympic Games. And behind that there is – once again – only one thing: money.
Perverse and shameless – there is no better description of the juristic travesty, which the IOC is committing by disseminating the following argumentation on the subject as follows:
„Athletes at the Winter Olympics in Sochi who openly protest Russia’s anti-gay laws could face sanctions and possible disqualification by the IOC. The International Olympic Committee says it supports gays and lesbians being allowed to compete in the Olympics but will not tolerate athletes who use the Winter Games as a platform to demonstrate against Russia’s anti-gay laws. In a statement issued on Wednesday to MSN News, a spokeswoman said Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter clearly spells out that the Games ‚are not a place for proactive protests or demonstrations.'“ (Quoted from MSN news.) This means that protest (or warning of a potential protest) against Russia’s anti-gay laws could lead to a ban from the Winter Olympic Games. The statement by the spokesman for the German media, which even goes beyond this, echoed the sentiment as follows: „This is not a sanction, but a measure of protection for athletes, who would otherwise feel compelled to make a political statement.“ (Zeit Online).
By way of justification, the IOC cites Art. 50 of the Olympic Charta, which reads:
Advertising, Demonstrations, Propaganda
- The IOC Executive Board determines the principles and conditions under which any form of advertising or other publicity may be authorized.
- No form of advertising or other publicity shall be allowed in and above the stadia, venues and other competition areas, which are considered as part of the Olympic sites. Commercial installations and advertising signs shall not be allowed in the stadia, venues or other sports grounds.
- No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.
First, it is essential to stress that No. 3 of Art. 50 prohibits “demonstrations” or “political, religious or racial propaganda”. Important here is that – according to a grammatical and systematical interpretation of the provision – “advertising” (another meaning of “propaganda” in the economic business context) is not subject to this regulation, because commercial advertisements are dealt with in No. 1-2 of Art. 50. The law uses “propaganda” in the actual meaning of “propaganda” in the sense of “influencing the attitude of the community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument” (Wikipedia). Thus, No. 3 of Art. 50 does not prohibit free speech at all, it only prohibits “propaganda”. This makes sense. Otherwise athletes would be banned from openly wearing religious symbols, such as making the sign of the cross prior to a competition or wearing a T-Shirt labelled “Peace” under the uniform to be revealed after a victorious run. This basically means that the provision invoked by the IOC cannot justify its intended actions.
Of greater concern, however, is that the original intent of the provision is turned upside down by its intended application. As a matter of course, according to the intention of provision Art. 50, No. 3 serves two ends: adherence to neutrality (of both participants and the Games themselves) and naturally, the protection of minorities from discrimination. A sanction against an athlete on the grounds of standing up against a threat to minority rights, based on a provision, that, inter alia, was designed to protect minority rights, is not only absurd, improper and inconceivable, it also demonstrates the glaring misconceptions of the decision makers: they have fallen victim to a classical logical circular argument, that may perhaps be propounded by a freshmen at law school, but should not happen to a council such as the IOC, that aspires to uphold the principles of quality, morality and ethics. Nor can the principle of adherence to neutrality be invoked in this case. Advocating values like equality of all participants regardless of origins, race, gender, and sexual orientation, which the IOC itself made the standard of its Olympic Games, does not jeopardize the neutrality of the Games, indeed, these principles are clearly rooted in the Olympic Spirit itself. If any legal standard beyond this were needed, the European Convention on Human Rights is quite helpful, which protects the sexual orientation of a human being under articles 14 and 8. Currently, it is often forgotten that Russia has actually ratified the European Convention on Human Rights.
In addition, usage of the word “protection” by the IOC in connection with a ban from the Olympic Games is particularly shameless. A ban cannot become a measure of “protection” simply by the use of the term. Its material effect is crucial. The effect is a removal of what is regarded as a ‘disagreeable element’ and has nothing whatsoever to do with “protection”. All athletes, regardless of their sexual orientation, who speak up against a law from the Stone Age that contravenes the Convention on Human Rights, deserve protection by their IOC – if only the IOC were enlightened and consistent. By announcing the consequences for protesting athletes, the IOC does precisely one thing: it ratifies and enforces the Russian law that is contrary to human rights. On the other hand, protection is afforded to Russian interests by the recognition (if not legitimization) of the legislative injustice so which the Olympic community is being subjected. Conversely, the IOC also pursues its own self-interest: prosecution of athletes during Olympic Games is not a pleasant affair. Such compliance – contrary to the IOC’s own values – is shameless, because it attempts to mask the Council’s own unlawful acts under the pretext of caring for the athletes. In point of fact, any athletes needing protection by reason of their sexual orientation or their courage are now at the mercy of the Russian state power and their own IOC.
The behaviour of the IOC is both embarrassing and inexcusable. Those who give up their values (and almost global standards) so readily do not understand their own Olympic mission. In the future, the Olympic Games must not be assigned to states, where similar circumstances can be anticipated. Substitute venues must be determined for cases likes this, where the application of a “Plan B” – as here – is obviously necessary. In doing so, monetary losses must not take centre stage. Olympic values are principles. They offer more wealth than money. With the intended “protection ban” the IOC has spent too much of its previous wealth. This will require personal consequences. The National Olympic Committees need to protest vociferously and with a sense of urgency.
Radio Interview with the author on the article (in German language):
The author wishes to thank Mr. Jeremy DeWaal for the proof-reading of the English translation.