Will the IOC Stand by Principle Six for the 2022 Winter Games?

Tomorrow the International Olympic Committee will choose the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Narrowed down to two, Almaty and Beijing, the IOC is faced with a veritable human rights quagmire.

Concerns over China’s human rights record are well documented, including cracking down on human rights lawyers and pro-democracy activists. And though less publicized, Kazakhstan’s human rights record is also troublesome, including its track record on the treatment of it’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Despite decriminalizing homosexuality in 1998, the Kazakh LGBT community had limited rights and protections compared to the rest of society. It wasn’t until lawmakers introduced legislation to ban the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations,” however, that their limited rights were actively targeted.

Under the proposed law, emulating Russia’s infamous anti-propaganda law, individuals would face civil penalties for dispersing any information that threatened the “health and development” of children. Despite the vague language, it considered information portraying LGBT relationships in a neutral or positive light as such a threat.

Before it could pass, Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Court invalidated the homophobic bill, citing a lack of clarity in the language. While the Kazakh LGBT community welcomed the ruling, the invalidation did not address the human rights concerns that lay at the heart of the matter. Many, including Human Rights First, sensed a connection between the Olympic bid and the rejection of the law. Last year’s revision to Principle Six of the Olympic Charter specifically forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A faction of lawmakers declared their intent to reintroduce the bill when the objections from the Constitutional Court have been addressed. If they follow through, the IOC should take the opportunity to stand against legislative homophobia. Imagine the full weight of the international Olympic community, the Olympiad’s advertisers, and worldwide media boldly standing up for the LGBT community.

The world started paying attention to Russia’s propaganda law in Sochi after it had long been in place. In Almaty, if the IOC chooses it to host the 2022 Olympic Games, the world could ensure that a copycat bill never sees the light of day.


Published on July 30, 2015


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