Vancouver is planning to send city councillor Tim Stevenson to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next year to advocate for the IOC to include a non-discrimination clause for LGBTQ people in its charter.
At a press conference at Vancouver City Hall today (December 11), Stevenson and Mayor Gregor Robertson indicated they plan to bring a motion before city council next week urging the action.
The city is planning to send a team of three people, including Coun. Stevenson, to Sochi a few days before the Olympics to hold meetings with the IOC—the International Olympic Committee—and the International Paralympic Committee. The trip will be funded through private contributions. The city has already received $50,000 in donations from real-estate marketer Bob Rennie and developer Peter Wall, and hopes to raise another $50,000.
“Our objective is not to challenge Russian policy, nor to provoke an incident in Sochi, but to channel the support of the LGBT community in a positive direction with the IOC and the IPC that helps future Olympic and Paralympic athletes,” said Stevenson, who is openly gay.
“To achieve this goal, we believe I need to put the case before the IOC and the IPC committee when they gather at Sochi for these winter games.”
The initiative has garnered the support of athletes including 2010 Olympic gold medallists Ashleigh McIvor and Jon Montgomery, and 2002 gold medallist Beckie Scott.
Former Olympic athlete Marion Lay said gay and lesbian people still face “a lot of discrimination” in sport.
“It’s one of the hardest and most conservative sectors to really make a difference in, and to try to bring out of the closet our athletes and coaches and sport people to speak out,” Lay said.
“As an athlete, if you speak about your sexual orientation, you are ostracized,” she added. “At the best we’re tolerated, at the worst today, as well as in my time, we are harassed…We need help in sport to feel safe, to be able to come out and be able to speak about our issues.”
Stevenson’s motion also calls for the City of Vancouver, as a host city of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, to urge the IOC and IPC to direct all future host cities to “facilitate and endorse the creation of a community-led Pride House as part of their bid”.
Robertson acknowledged that while Vancouver doesn’t have any specific authority as a former host city, he believes the municipality’s voice is important on the issue.
“Making sure people understand the importance of Pride House and the protection and support and celebration of athletes regardless of sexual orientation is absolutely critical going forward for the Olympic and Paralympic movement,” he said.
Vancouver was the first host city to feature a Pride House as part of the Olympics. The venue served as a gathering space and resource centre for LGBTQ athletes and other visitors in Whistler. The initiative prompted the establishment of another Pride House at the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“We came up with Pride House, and we found a venue, we found funding, and we created a safe space in Whistler for LGBT to come, whether they be locals, athletes, spectators, reporters, whoever it may be,” said Pride House cofounder Ken Coolen. “And night after night we saw people coming in just to enjoy that wonderful, wonderful space.”
The Russian government has drawn international criticism after it adopted antigay legislation earlier this year.
On July 26, Robertson issued a statement expressing his concern about the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Russia’s discriminatory laws.
“I would like to join the millions worldwide who are calling upon Russia to end its violent crackdown on the human rights and free expression of the LGBTQ community ahead of hosting the world in Sochi,” he wrote at the time.
“I am also calling upon the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee to urgently explore every possible option to ensure that the next Olympic and Paralympic Games are hosted in a manner that guarantees the full, safe, and open participation of the LGBTQ community.”
The full text of Stevenson’s motion, which will go before city council on December 17, can be viewed on the City of Vancouver’s website. An online petition has also been launched to gather support from the public.