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Gay Games to skip sports conference in Russia out of fear for safety

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The Federation of Gay Games is skipping the upcoming Peace and Sport conference in Sochi, Russia, after conference organizers could not ensure the safety of the Gay Games delegate. Russia is homophobic and a judge this year banned a Pride House for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Peace and Sport has held previous conference in its home base of Monaco, but is moving this year's event to Sochi. The FGG earlier this year asked for a guarantee of safety for its delegate given the rising tide of homophobia in Russia but was not given adequate assurances.The FGG sent this letter to Peace and Sport President Joël Bouzou (complete text below):

We do have concerns due to the growing homophobia in Russia and cannot put [our delegate] at any risk. Nor of course can we accept to remain silent about the raison d'être for our organization, the promotion of lesbian, gay, bi and trans sport, and the fight against homophobia in sport and sports institutions, and in particular the homophobic ban on a Pride House at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Pride House was held at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and this year's Summer Games in London, but a Russian judge this year blocked one for Sochi using this homophobic reasoning:

"The aims of the organization contradict the basics of public morality and the policy of the state in the area of family motherhood and childhood protection," said Svetlana Mordovina in her ruling.

"The activities of the [Pride House] movement leads to propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation which can undermine the security of the Russian society and the state, provoke social-religious hatred, which is the feature of the extremist character of the activity.

‘Moreover it can undermine the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation due to the decrease of Russia’s population.

‘Such aims as creating an understanding of the necessity to fight against homophobia and the creation of positive attitudes towards LGBT sportsmen contradicts with the basics of public morality because they are directed towards the increase of the number of citizens of sexual minorities which breaches the understanding of good and evil, good and bad, vice and virtue."

Here is the complete letter sent by the FGG to Peace and Sport:

Mr Joël Bouzou
President, Peace and Sport

Dear Mr Bouzou,

In a few days [Oct. 31-Nov. 2] the annual Peace and Sport Forum will take place in Sochi, Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

We thank you for your invitation to the Federation of Gay Games to participate in this year’s forum. Alas, we will be unable to attend, due to the absence of guarantees for the safety of our delegate. We regret that the hosts of an event that seeks to promote understanding find themselves unable to ensure the personal integrity and the ability to speak openly of those they invite. And we see this situation as proof that the choice of Sochi in particular and Russia in general to host international sport events is a grave error that is contrary to the fundamental principles of sport for all.

Previously this event has taken place in Monaco, the headquarters of your organization which operates under the patronage of Prince Albert II of Monaco, who has declared: “Sport has a unique and irreplaceable capacity to unite people, going far beyond ethnic, religious or social differences. I am convinced that sport can be at the long-term service of peace”.

This year, for the first time, the event leaves Monaco in favor of Sochi. We were eager to participate in this event. We share the belief in the power of sport for all to promote peace and mutual understanding, and wanted to raise awareness of how LGBT sport events like the Gay Games can break down barriers and fight homophobia and all forms of discrimination towards a goal of a more peaceful world. Over their thirty-year history, the Gay Games have become the largest international competitive sports event open to all, in the spirit of “Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best”.

We are sure that you agree that “peace through sport” must begin with “peace in sport”: sport must be neutral with respect to religious belief, politics, race, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation. It must be a safe place for all to come together. Governing bodies must work to ensure that their members respect these principles in their operations and at the events they sanction.

As you know, we had arranged for the FGG to be represented by the co-chair of our Diversity Committee. On 23 August we wrote to thank you for the invitation, to indicate that we would like to attend, and to express our concerns as to the safety of our delegate.

Given the rising official and unofficial homophobia in Russia, the banning of LGBT events and the “promotion of homosexuality”, the non-respect for freedom of expression, manifested in particular by the banning of a Pride House during the Sochi Olympics, we wrote:

We do have concerns due to the growing homophobia in Russia and cannot put [our delegate] at any risk. Nor of course can we accept to remain silent about the raison d'être for our organization, the promotion of lesbian, gay, bi and trans sport, and the fight against homophobia in sport and sports institutions, and in particular the homophobic ban on a Pride House at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Can you offer assurance as to the personal safety of [our delegate], and her freedom of expression at the event?

We received from your services a kind response saying that your organization would look into the matter. We have since sent several reminders, the latest of which you have replied to, repeating your personal welcome of our delegate, but confirming that you could provide no assurances whatsoever as to her personal safety as an LGBT person speaking on LGBT issues. You will understand that we cannot ask our delegate to put herself in danger, and we will therefore not be attending this year’s conference, thus – alas -- sparing your hosts in Sochi any criticism of their homophobia that prevents full participation in sport for all athletes.

We are publishing this letter and presenting it at the EPAS/EGLSF Conference this week in Utrecht, in the hopes that you and other partners in sport will recognize the threat to peace and full participation in sport represented by the hosting of events in repressive regimes, in particular those that practice institutionalized homophobia.

We thank you again for your kind invitation. We are convinced despite your good faith efforts, you have recognized that the deplorable situation in the country you have chosen to host this year’s forum limits your ability to offer any assurances to participants. We do sincerely hope to work together to promote our shared vision of sport as a tool for human progress, a vision that is incompatible with the hosting of events in locales where homophobia and other forms of discrimination are rampant.

Perhaps Cleveland, the host of the ninth and next Gay Games, can host the 2014 edition of the Peace and Sport Forum?

Yours truly,
Kurt Dahl
Emy Ritt
FGG Co-Presidents