WASHINGTON — The head of the International Olympic Committee said that the body does not aim to influence national legislation but that the Olympics do aim to set an example for the world.
Writing to All Out on Oct. 7 that the IOC "cannot hope to influence national legislation" and "has to respect the law of each host country," IOC president Thomas Bach at the same time insisted that "the Games ... can be a powerful symbol that sets an example for peaceful coexistence and mutual respect."
All Out, the organization aimed at pressing for change on gay rights through use of social media and online organizing, had delivered a petition signed by more than 300,000 people to the IOC in August calling on the international organization to "to condemn Russia's anti-gay law before the Olympic Games, denounce the laws and urged Russia to ensure the security of all visitors, athletes and Russian people, before, during, and after the Games."
Bach wrote that "the IOC will do everything it can to ensure that the Olympic Games in Sochi as well as any future Games' edition will be free of any form of discrimination," noting, "Assurances were given to the IOC again last week that this will be the case during the Sochi Games and clearly, this is what the IOC demands and expects."
Russian officials have said that the anti-LGBT propaganda law will remain in effect during the Olympics, however, with recent enforcement actions and Russian officials' own statements that the propaganda law is not discrimination raising continued questions about the impact of the law on athletes and spectators who will be in Sochi for the Olympics.
IOC officials have reiterated on multiple occasions, as recently as Sept. 26, that they view their role as not allowing intervention on domestic issues of the host nation.
In the letter to All Out, Bach expanded on that point, writing, "[I]t is important to stress that the IOC's remit does not extend to the internal affairs of sovereign nations, no matter how we may feel about them. We are not a supra-national parliament or government and we must leave such deliberations to the competent authorities. The IOC cannot hope to influence national legislation outside the scope of the Games and has to respect the law of each host country."
All Out executive director Andre Banks was not satisfied with the response, noting in a statement that "Bach has refused — again — to explicitly recognize gays and lesbians as a protected group under Olympic Principle 6, which prohibits discrimination. It's 2013 and the IOC still can't say 'gay' — that tells the world that being lesbian or gay is something to hide or keep locked in the closet."
For recommended next steps, he said, "Bach should encourage Olympians in Sochi to speak out against discrimination faced by gay athletes and citizens in Russia — because that's what the Olympic charter says is right. But the IOC is bending its own rules to obscure the obvious conflict with unjust Russian laws, which seek to silence discussion of gay people."