Sexuality, Sport and the Continuing Relevance of Sochi

In 2014 I published an article outlining the controversy around the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Sochi Winter Olympics and the Russian anti-propaganda laws. In light of a couple of things this past month I have decided to revisit the article. Firstly, I am delivering a guest lecture in June on it in London, at the University of Maryland study abroad programme. Secondly, Birmingham – the city I currently live in – hosted their annual pride event, so the city has been painted rainbow colours this past week. My main reflection has been – is the 2014 article still relevant and how can it contribute to the present and future issues around sport and sexuality?

Blog July

The current relevance of the article and the controversy around Sochi and sexuality at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games for me is threefold:

  1. Continuing pressure on the IOC to uphold its own standard of ‘encouraging the harmonious development of man’ (IOC Charter). Especially in light of the recent media coverage around: doping, awarding the 2024 Summer Games and the tangibly negative legacies of Rio 2016. The negative press all strain on the lofty aspirations the organisation has. It is important, therefore, to continue to explore the contrasting dynamic of the IOC and its attempt to balance being: a multi-billion dollar organisation, elite sporting event and ‘the supreme authority of the worldwide Olympic movement.’
  2. Continuing pressure on athletes and sports organisations to embrace diversity, in particular in the UK, and in particular around LGBT inclusivity. Football has been a prime example of this debate, with varying examples of open and closed culture around individuals and their sexuality. In the context of my Sochi article and a more global perspective the UK is privileged in how accepting and proactive we are. Consequently, although there has been significant progress, this is not true of sport globally.
  3. In connection to the above points, the imminent hosts of some of the biggest sport mega events are not particularly LGBT inclusive states – Russia (World Cup 2018), South Korea (Winter Olympics 2018), Japan (Summer Olympics 2020) and Qatar (World Cup 2022). According to the Equaldex the countries have the following LGBT rights:

Russia- homosexual marriage not-recognised and propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations is illegal.

South Korea- homosexuality legal, but illegal in the military and homosexual marriage is not-recognised.

Japan – similarly to South Korea it is legal, but ambiguous about military and no protections against discrimination.

Qatar- homosexuality is illegal.

So…the IOC is under continuing pressure about its practices; athletes and sports organisations in the UK are being pressed to become inclusive; and the upcoming set of sport mega event hosts are ‘mixed’ about LGBT rights. This concoction poses continuing threats and issues for international and national organisations, states, and then individuals.

To make sense of this concoction I need to further reflect and potentially write another article, as it is not all doom and gloom. But, based on this short blog and my upcoming presentation what is clear is that the 2014 article is still incredibly relevant and can contribute further in future debates around sport and sexuality.




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