It's understandable that groups seeking to enhance their visibility, their media coverage, and increase their fundraising capacity would want to describe this announcement as a win for them, while ignoring the groups that have had a much longer involvement in the issues, for example the Federation of Gay Games, Human Rights Watch, or the Pride House Movement.
What's this contract change really about? And what would it take for the IOC to truly change the Olympic Movement to respect the principle of sport for all, including LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) athletes?
Consider the revised contract language for Clause L of the contract:
"Whereas the [Host] City and the [National Olympic Committee] acknowledge and accept the importance of the Games and the value of the Olympic image, and agree to conduct all activities in a manner which promotes and enhances the fundamental principles and values of Olympism, as well as the development of the Olympic Movement."
The only difference is the line in boldface, taken directly from the Olympic Charter. Which Charter, as one could expect, was already present in the existing contract! Here is Clause G from the London Contract:
"Whereas the IOC has taken note of and has specifically relied upon the covenant given by the Government of the country in which the City and the NOC are situated (hereinafter respectively the 'Government' and the 'Host Country') to respect the Olympic Charter and this Contract."
And Clause H: "Whereas the IOC has taken note of and has specifically relied upon the undertaking of the City and the NOC to stage the Games in full compliance with the provisions of the Olympic Charter and this Contract."
There are many other references to the requirement of the Host City to respect the Olympic Charter, but let's just note this rather explicit one: "The IOC hereby entrusts the organisation of the Games to the city and the NOC which undertake to fulfil their obligations in full compliance with the provisions of the Olympic Charter and this Contract, including, without limitation, all matters contained in the documents referred to in this Contract, which, for greater certainty, are deemed to form an integral part of this Contract."
The "great step forward" is thus simply copying language from the Charter, which is already part of the contract, and adding it to an existing clause in the same contract. It's not clear this is worth the fanfare some of the press and LGBT organisations have given it. This victory looks all the less dramatic when we observe that, whatever All Out and Athlete Ally say, the language in question says absolutely nothing about homophobic discrimination, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
In their Principle 6 Campaign, these organisations refused to call for a change to the Olympic Charter, unlike other organisations that have demanded this change to make protection against such discrimination explicit. For example, in 2010 the Federation of Gay Games launched its Principle 5 Campaign, via Facebook, (at the time, the non-discrimination clause was number five), calling on the IOC to revise the Charter. It was not alone, and more recently Pride House International included this demand in its appeals to the IOC before and during the Sochi Games.
During this period, Jacques Rogge and Thomas Bach, his successor as President of the IOC, both insisted that Principle 6 should be understood as including sexual orientation in the word "otherwise". Let's take them at their word: If the IOC agrees with its recent leaders that this is the proper way to read the Charter, it should be easy to change the text accordingly. And if not, that means that the change in the Host City Contract is even more meaningless for gay and lesbian athletes.
For the moment, let's assume that the Rogge and Bach interpretation is supported by the IOC as a whole. Will it be respected? Will the IOC bring in LGBT and human rights organisations to monitor the execution of these commitments? And more importantly, how will the contract be enforced? There are any number of mechanisms that could be devised. Without them, this is simply a declaration of good intentions, with no security for gay and lesbian athletes.
Such monitoring and enforcement measures were part of the submissions for the IOC Agenda 2020 process from organisations like the Federation of Gay Games, Human Rights Watch, and certain European NOCs. The IOC will vote on Agenda 2020 at the Extraordinary IOC Session on December 8 and 9 in Monte Carlo, which leaves some time for the IOC to make changes that go beyond contractual window dressing, but they won't do so if LGBT and human rights groups take the host contract change as a victory.
And with all this, we are still only talking about the Games themselves and what happens there. But the real impact of homophobia in sport can be found upstream from the Olympic Games, in the various member countries of the IOC. Looking at similar events, we can see many cases where athletes are victims of discrimination well before getting to the host country.
We can recall the case of Nigeria, where the national football team excluded lesbians, with no real response from FIFA. Or more recently, the case of Thierry Essamba, kicked off the Cameroon track team just before the Commonwealth Games because he was rumored to be gay.
He has been kicked off his team, excluded from his sport, ostracised by his family. He has received no support in any fashion from the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), despite the statement to insidethegames "that until a country specifically outlaws an athlete competing, or does something which would directly affect sport, no action would be taken against [homophobic] member nations".
Here is an obvious case of homophobic discrimination affecting sport, yet the governing body does nothing. It's too easy for organisations like FIFA, the CGF or the IOC to claim to respect the principle of non-discrimination by banning persecution during their events, while allowing homophobia to run rampant in their member countries and in particular in their selection of athletes competing on the national team. If gay and lesbian athletes can't even get to the Games, then there is no glory in protecting the absent.
Bach is clearly more progressive than previous heads of the IOC. But he works for an organisation made up of member countries that are far less enlightened. We can therefore understand that progress will be slow within the IOC, let alone its member bodies. It is admirable that Bach recently recognised that sport does not exist in an ivory tower, and that it is inextricably tied to the economic, social, and political environment when he declared that "to ensure the functioning of worldwide sport, we must be politically neutral but realise that our decisions have political implications".
It was ambitious for Thomas Bach to launch Agenda 2020 at the beginning of his term, and to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation within the scope of work. He, and the IOC, must do more than this minor change in the Host City Contract. There are many of us who will be watching to see if the various submissions referring to human rights will be included in the final document presented in December. This is a matter of vital importance for the future of the Olympic Movement and for sport worldwide.
According to its own vision, the Olympic Movement goes well beyond the quadrennial events. It claims to represent all of the worldwide sporting movement. Its practices and policies inspire those of many other sport organisations in the world.
While it may not be possible today to change the practices in the 100-some member countries of the IOC, change must begin within the IOC itself and in the event it controls. The organisation must show leadership, and make the changes needed.
Marc Naimark is vice-president for external affairs for the Federation of Gay Games, the governing body for the world's largest sporting event open to all, and a member of the Pride House International coalition of LGBT sport and human-rights organisations.