Amid outcry about Russia’s new anti-gay law ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, one LGBT rights group is petitioning the International Olympic Committee to choose a more LGBT-friendly host for the 2020 Summer Olympics. The IOC will decide September 7 where the 2020 Games will take place, and Athlete Ally, a nonprofit that urges allies of LGBT rights to combat homophobia in sports, is circulating a petition asking the IOC to “live the values of the Olympic Charter” by giving the Games to Madrid.
Athlete Ally prefers Madrid over Tokyo and Istanbul, the other two finalists, because Spain boasts some of the most robust LGBT protections in the world: it legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, allows gays to serve openly in the military and to adopt children, and has laws preventing discrimination in employment and hiring, customer service, and other areas. That’s a high standard that not even the United States can meet — and it makes Madrid the best choice for the 2020 Games, Athlete Ally says:
On September 7, the IOC will choose the host city for the 2020 Olympic Games. Of the three finalists, Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul, Madrid shines above the rest for its LGBT inclusivity. And of the potential host countries, only Spain has full equality under the law.
We urge the members of the IOC casting their votes to select the city that clearly demonstrates that LGBT rights are human rights. With 10,000 signatures to this petition we will deliver a strong message to the IOC members: persecution of the LGBT community and the Olympics can never again co-exist. Choose Madrid!
Athlete Ally boasts nearly 11,000 members and has organizations on college campuses across the country. Both straight and gay professional athletes, including outspoken allies like NFL players Brendan Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe, have joined its movement, which has pushed for better protections for LGBT athletes and fans across the sports world. It is seeking 10,000 signatures for its petition to the IOC in an effort to make sure the voice of LGBT athletes and fans and their allies “is heard loud and clear.”
From cost to human rights to marketability, there are various concerns when it comes to choosing sites for mega sporting events like the Olympics or World Cup, but in recent years, the IOC and FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, have placed one above all others: they want to take their events to parts of the globe that either haven’t hosted before or haven’t in a long time, expanding their reach and influence and building their legacy of taking sports to different parts of the earth. The Olympics went to Sydney in 2000, back to Greece in 2004, and to China in 2008. The Winter Games are in Sochi, Russia in 2014; the Summer version heads to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The World Cup went to Japan and Korea in 2002, to South Africa in 2010. It will take place in Brazil in 2014, Russia in 2018, and Qatar in 2022.
Taking sports to new corners of the world isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. An unintended result of that mission, though, has been that FIFA and the IOC have ignored other concerns about their events, including exorbitant costs and human rights. That has already had consequences in Brazil, where millions took the streets to protest excessive spending this summer, and in Russia, where a recently passed anti-gay law has drawn concern about how LGBT athletes, fans, and media will be treated during the Games.
Athlete Ally’s petition is the latest reminder to FIFA and the IOC that they needs to take more than new horizons into account when they choose where these events will take place. If FIFA and the IOC want to continue stretching their borders, they also have to be willing to uphold their missions and use their considerable influence to spark positive human rights changes in those countries — or at least ensure that LGBT fans and athletes will be safe while attending the events. If they aren’t willing to do that — and they haven’t been in Russia thus far — perhaps it’d be wise for them to take the concerns of LGBT fans and athletes into consideration and avoid those countries altogether. The number of LGBT athletes is only growing, and while they can’t be the only concern in determining where each Olympics or World Cup is held, LGBT rights and human rights in general at least deserve to be part of the equation.