Does the International Olympic Committee Charter deserve any medals for Sochi?

In the heads of many the famous theme of the Olympics can be heard when the games are just around the corner. Such is the case now because the 2014 Winter Olympic Games located in Sochi, Russia are right around the corner. The modern Olympics have been around starting in 1896 in Athens, Greece, but the idea was conceived back in ancient Greece. It is one of the world’s grand sporting spectacles with countries competing years in advance for the chance to host the games. Whether it be the Summer or Winter games, they want to showcase to the world their country as seen in recent news by Japan being granted the 2020 Summer Games.

However, with the spotlight on a country and the desire to showcase their prowess there is a flip slide. That is, the Olympic spotlight can expose dirty underlings in a country. That is why the International Olympic Committee (IOC) incoporated a charter to make sure that host countries are governed by its rules and bylaws when hosting. The question that is asked is how much weight does it actually have on countries hosting?  The IOC charter states in a quote to the Associated Press by the chairman of the IOC Coordination Committee, Jean-Claude Killy, “all segregation is completely prohibited, whether it be on the grounds of race, religion, color or other, on the Olympic territory.”

The key question is does “other” include sexual orientation? In June of this year, Russian President Vladamir Putin signed into Russian law, an act prohibiting the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors”. It was hailed as a family values law for the Russian people. Human rights activists and groups just say its a law directly targeting the rights of the LGBT community. Now what actually happened when the IOC completed their last tour of Sochi before the 2014 Winter games? They simply said Russia respected the IOC charter and its cleared for launch.

Now comes the question is of credibility; Is the IOC Charter credible? After all, hundreds of countries participate in the Olympic Games and millions of tourist visit the host country. While you have to respect the sovereignty of the Russian nation, what about other member countries that have relaxed their anti-homosexual attitudes such as the United States? If the IOC’s goal is to promote healthy sporting competition between nations, can its’ charter be respected if a tourist or even an athlete is detained and charged under this law by Russian officials? The Russian government has said the law will apply to athletes and tourists. How can possible violators be protected? Anyone’s guess is as good as the next person’s because IOC insight was an idealistic promise, but no action plan. So is this charter and the IOC a credible protector of human rights for the citizens of the world that participate in one way or another in the games?

To quote Mr. Killy again he said, “Another thing I must add: the IOC doesn’t really have the right to discuss the laws in the country where the Olympic Games are organized. As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied, and that is the case.” Many Human Rights activists point out “other” is a pretty general term and could encompass segregation based on sexual orientation.

In 2008 there were protest of the Beijing Olympics due to China’s shaky Human Rights past, (i.e. 1.5 million people forcibly displaced by construction) but those game still went on and it is looking like the 2014 games in Sochi will too. It seems in some instances the IOC charter has the wishes to make countries hosting conduct themselves to the highest morality, but it seems that the IOC charter is a toothless dog with a loud bark.

Can the IOC charter really be a strong force for International law/thinking or is it just a morality game played to please participating countries? What, if any action could have the IOC taken?


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One comment

  1. In regards to your question, I believe the IOC is “just a morality game played to please participating countries.” The IOC does not enact law, so unfortunately, the IOC is toothless because it does not supersede the jurisdictional authority of the host country. It seems that even the IOC does not respect its own charter. If it were serious about its segregation clause, it would remove Russia as the host for the winter games. Clearing Russia to host the games sets a bad precedent going forward. It basically sends a message to other countries that their laws need not be compatible with the IOC’s charter in order to host the Olympics. The IOC’s charter could have been used as a mechanism to incentivize Russia to repeal its homophobic laws. Unfortunately, the IOC has shown that countries can disrespect its charter and suffer no consequences. If the IOC doesn’t even respect its charter, how can countries be expected to?

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