LGBTQ athletes and advocates are alarmed over the prospect of Russia hosting an international sports competition.

In September, it was announced Russia is slated to host the Arctic Winter Games in 2026. The event is a biennial circumpolar sport competition for Northern and Arctic athletes. It was founded in 1969 and includes a variety of winter sports, from ice hockey to alpine skiing. A total of nine contingencies participate, including a team from Alaska.

Chelsea Thacker, executive director of the Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife, an LGBTQ outreach organization in Northwestern Canada, told the CBC she’s concerned about the possibility of LGBTQ athletes competing in a hostile environment.

“Instantly I was concerned because in recent years, and from a long historical context, there has been heavy discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people in Russia,” she said. “I can’t imagine … athletes who are forced to now choose safety over something that they have as a career, or as a passion, or as something that is really important to them.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin has made LGBTQ discrimination a centerpiece of his authoritarian regime. Most infamously, Russia passed a law banning the promotion of homosexual activities and relationships. Earlier this year, Putin vowed to never legalize same-sex marriage while he’s president. After disturbing reports emerged of gay people being detained and tortured in the Chechnya region, Russian officials told the United Nations it wasn’t happening, because there are no gay people who live there.

Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi against the backdrop of its anti-gay laws and rhetoric from Putin’s administration. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Russian government to pay damages to a sports equality group called Sochi Pride House, whose aim was to provide a welcoming place for LGBTQ athletes and fans attending the 2014 Olympic Games.

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