Next Olympics boss might be from nation with anti-gay law

Sergey Bubka (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)
Sergey Bubka (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

Two of the six candidates vying to lead the International Olympic Committee are from  countries with either an anti-gay law on the books or an anti-gay bill that’s close to passage in the legislature.

Ser Miang Ng  is from Singapore, where a colonial-era law provides for up to two years in prison for sexual relations between men. That law is currently facing a constitutional challenge.

Sergey Bubka is from Ukraine, where a ban on describing homosexuality as normal has won support in parliament.

In advance of the election of the committee’s next president on Sept. 10, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists are pushing for the next IOC leader to be someone who demands that potential Olympics host countries guarantee human rights for their citizens. HRW connects Bubka to  Russia, where an anti-LGBT crackdown is under way, which has led to calls for a boycott or other types of protests during the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“Just as the IOC assesses ice rinks and ski jumps, the new Olympics leader needs to press Russia to repeal a discriminatory law and address human rights violations before the Sochi Games,” said Minky Worden, HRW’s director of global initiatives.

In response to that appeal, the IOC focused on human rights at the Olympics themselves, without seeing any role for the committee in pushing for human rights elsewhere in the host country or using countries’ attitudes toward human rights in selecting a host country.

The IOC stated:

“Whilst we clearly expect any Olympic Games, regardless of their location and including the next edition in Sochi, to take place without any form of discrimination, it is important to stress that the IOC’s remit is limited to the scope of the Games. For instance, the IOC cannot influence national legislation and has to respect the law of any host country.”

Ser Miang Ng (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Ser Miang Ng (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In an interview with USA Today, Bubka said, “There should be no discrimination to anyone, any religion, sexual or any political issue. The Games always bring good change. We are confident that there will be no discrimination in Sochi. For Russia, this is very important. They invest in a lot. It will be a great legacy.”

Ng told the Associated Press that he is optimistic that Russia will avoid anti-gay repression at the Sochi games. “The IOC has made a very strong point that they will be against any action that would discriminate against participants at the Sochi Games, whether it’s officials, media, visitors or the athletes,” he said.

“I believe there will be a good solution to that,” Ng said. “I believe that this issue will be resolved to the satisfaction of all.”

Thomas Bach of Germany, an IOC vice president, is considered the candidate who is most likely to win the presidency, although Germany is under scrutiny for possible violation of anti-doping rules.

This is HRW’s press release on the subject:

Olympics: Next IOC Leader Should Back Rights Reforms
Presidential Candidates Need to Take a Stand Against Abuses

(New York, August 23, 2013) – The next president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should ensure that future host countries comply with human rights in full accordance with the Olympic Charter, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said today. On August 2, 2013, Human Rights Watch and CPJ sent a letter  to the six IOC presidential candidates asking for their views on several rights issues relevant to the Olympic Movement and in particular to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Sochi, Russia.

IOC President Jacques Rogge meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in May 2013. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
IOC President Jacques Rogge meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in May 2013. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The letter was sent ahead of the election of the successor to current IOC president, Jacques Rogge, at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on September 10. On  August 23, Rogge will speak in New York City at the United Nations for the “International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.”

“With less than six months before the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Games, the Olympic Movement is facing a crisis over Russia’s failure to respect the Olympic Charter in Sochi,” said Minky Worden, director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “Just as the IOC assesses ice rinks and ski jumps, the new Olympics leader needs to press Russia to repeal a discriminatory law and address human rights violations before the Sochi Games.”

The six candidates for the IOC presidency are Thomas Bach (Germany), Sergey Bubka (Russia), Richard Carrión (Puerto Rico), Ser Miang Ng (Singapore), Denis Oswald (Switzerland), and Ching-Kuo Wu (Taiwan).

In the August 2 joint letter, Human Rights Watch and CPJ asked candidates to share their positions on human rights concerns, including urgent issues related to the Sochi Games. The letter invites candidates to comment on specific steps they would take regarding:

  • The recently enacted Russian law targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality that  violates portions of the Olympic charter requiring the “preservation of human dignity” and prohibiting members of the Olympic Movement, including host countries such as Russia, from practicing any form of discrimination;
  • Steps required to protect media freedom, in accordance with Rule 48 of the Olympic Charter;
  • Steps to curtail rights abuses related to Russia’s preparations for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, including evictions without fair compensation, abuses against migrant workers, and harassment of activists and media criticizing the Olympic preparations or other issues in Sochi; and
  • The need for systemic reform within the IOC,  such as the  Human Rights Watch proposal to create  an IOC standing committee on human rights to monitor human rights in host countries.

“Just when Russia ought to welcome international guests for the Games, the Kremlin is legislating hostility to foreigners and cracking down on independent voices through restrictive new laws and a rhetoric of discrimination,” said Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator at CPJ. “We call on the IOC to engage with Russian authorities on these pressing issues and urge them to decriminalize defamation, stop censoring the Internet, abandon their policy of harassment of independent journalists and human rights defenders, and address the lasting impunity in anti-press violence.”

Before, during, and after the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Human Rights Watch, CPJ, and other rights organizations met with the IOC to report a host of rights violations, including abuses of migrant workers building Olympic venues and infrastructure and the use of the Olympics as an excuse to dramatically expand the country’s security apparatus. The harsh clampdown on civil society and media and internet censorship in the run-up to and during the Beijing Olympics – with punishment for anyone trying to protest – interfered with reporting these abuses.

Human Rights Watch has since 2008 provided the IOC with detailed information on human rights abuses ahead of the Sochi Olympics through letters and meetings. These concerns include harassment and intimidation of activists and journalists, abuses of migrant workers building major Olympic venues (including the media center), and forced evictions of some families without compensation. Some migrant workers who tried to complain have been detained.

“The IOC failed to hold China to its press freedom commitments during the Beijing Olympics and now it faces a similar challenge in Russia, a country that routinely disregards its human rights obligations,” said Joel Simon, executive director at CPJ. “The next IOC president must show leadership and adherence to the Olympic principles by ensuring that Russia repeals its repressive laws and upholds its human rights obligations, including on freedom of the press and freedom of expression.”

On August 15, the IOC replied to Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists on behalf of the six candidates. Regarding the anti-LGBT law in Russia, the IOC stated: “Whilst we clearly expect any Olympic Games, regardless of their location and including the next edition in Sochi, to take place without any form of discrimination, it is important to stress that the IOC’s remit is limited to the scope of the Games. For instance, the IOC cannot influence national legislation and has to respect the law of any host country.”  The letter also indicated the IOC’s general agreement that “ensuring human rights and media freedom in the context of the organization and staging of the Olympic Games is crucial.”

The letter did not include any specific responses from individual candidates. Some of the candidates have expressed their opinions about the anti-LGBT law in Russia when asked to comment by the media.

“As guardians of the Olympic flame, the IOC’s role is to take action in moments that threaten the Olympic movement,” Worden said.  “The time to act is now.”

For more information, including the letter from Human Rights Watch and CPJ to the six IOC presidential candidates, see the HRW website.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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