Open Games to celebrate LGBT athletes in Moscow after the Olympics

Konstantin Yablotskiy (left) at the 2010 Gay Games with other figure skaters - Roland Jarquio

With Sochi closed to them, the Russian LGBT Sport Federation will hold Open Games event in Moscow. Co-chair Konstantin Yablotskiy criticizes the IOC for silencing LGBT supporters. "Human rights are not politics."

The Russian LGBT Sport Federation will hold the first ever Russian Open Games in Moscow to celebrate LGBT athletes and promote healthy lifestyle, physical culture and sports among LGBT people. The event is set to take place the week between the Winter Olympic Games and the Paralympics, Feb. 26 to March 2.

The Open Games will include nine sports: Badminton, basketball, cross-country skiing, soccer, swimming, table tennis, tennis, track & field and volleyball. Two other sports - figure skating and same-sex dancing - will be held as workshops. There will also be cultural and social events.

"It's not about having a winner and a loser, it's about bringing in people to engage in sports," Russian LGBT Sport Federation co-chair Konstantin Yoblatskiy told Outsports. "In Russia, we have the saunas, bars and clubs. This is an opportunity for people to engage with one another and to engage in sports."

Organizers hope for strong participation from the Russian people and welcome athletes of any sexual orientation or gender identity. They also hope to attract visitors from around the world; They are now reaching out to some well-known athletes in hopes they will stay in Russia after the Olympics to lend visibility for the Open Games.

They chose the name "Open Games" because the event "reflects the ideals of sport that they are open to everyone," Yablotskiy said.

The Sport Federation had been hoping to have a presence in Sochi along with Pride House International. When the Russian government banned Pride House and began steps to keep LGBT issues away from the Olympic Games, they knew they had no choice but to abandon a Sochi-based event and look to Moscow, where Yoblatskiy lives.

"We didn't have any other choice than to have this PRide event in Moscow," he said.

Despite the crackdown in Sochi, Yablotskiy said he does not believe there will be any incidents in Sochi over LGBT demonstrations. On the one hand, the Russian government is sweeping through the city to make sure there are as few miscreants present as possible. Russian citizens needs special passes simply to get into the city during the Olympics; It's why Yablotskiy is sure he will not be allowed anywhere near Sochi during the Games.

He said the Russians also do not want any international incidents during these Winter Games.

"The Olympics is Putin's very personal, political project to show we're a very powerful country," Yablotskiy said. "He does not want a crisis or an international incident. I'm very confident that neither Russia nor the IOC will take any action. No one will be arrested."

Still, Yablotskiy is highly critical of the IOC for its position on LGBT-rights demonstrations during the Games. He believes the IOC could allow demonstrations that would not incur a forcible response by the Russian government.

"There are some issues in the world that are not tolerable, like racism and sexism and homophobia," Yablotskiy said. "I see the IOC trying to escape the responsibility to work with these difficult issues.

"They say that Olympic Games aren't a platform for any political statements. They lie. They had North and South Korea marching together. It's a huge political message. And now they're trying to escape their responsibility and support equality in sport.

"If the IOC forgets why it exists, the world doesn't need it. They are forgetting that they are to use sport to bring peace to the world."

Yablotskiy is a figure skater who has competed in the Outgames and Gay Games. He led a contingent of 74 Russians to the 2013 Outgames in Antwerp, Belgium.

For more information on the Open Games, visit their Web site at www.russianopengames.ru and "like" their Facebook page.

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