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Gay Vancouver councillor optimistic after meeting with IOC in Sochi

Olympics officials 'obviously don’t want a repeat' of human-rights fallout from Russia: Tim Stevenson

Left to right: IOC executive office head Jochen Färber, Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson, IOC director of communications Mark Adams, VANOC project manager Maureen Douglas. The four met in Sochi, Russia, days before the Winter Games opening ceremonies. Credit: Ian Jones, IOC

Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson has warmed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after meeting with their top staff Feb 3, he says.

Stevenson and VANOC project manager Maureen Douglas are in Sochi, Russia, lobbying for LGBT recognition in the IOC charter. Stevenson, who is gay, says he went into the meeting looking for a fight but came out feeling optimistic about what he called a “lengthy and warm” discussion with IOC executive office head Jochen Färber.

“I was expecting to come out and hold a press conference where I said, ‘This is outrageous,’ or something,” Stevenson says. “We turned out to have an hour and a quarter meeting, and it became very apparent that they fully intended to listen to us and enter into a very broad conversation covering all the issues that we had.”

Stevenson says the IOC officials told him that president Thomas Bach will launch a year-long review of IOC policy at meetings in Sochi, and the addition of sexual orientation to the organization’s non-discrimination clause will be on the table. The inclusion of a sexual orientation clause was a major lobbying goal for Stevenson, who says he thinks that it would dissuade the IOC from picking openly homophobic Olympic sites in future.

In a press conference Feb 3, Bach defended the current charter, telling the Associated Press, “Sexual orientation is included in the charter; whether you name it expressly or not is more symbolic an issue. It doesn’t change the legal quality.”

At the same time, however, Bach hinted at the same reforms mentioned in Stevenson’s private meeting. That gives Stevenson hope that the IOC has learned its lesson from the human-rights fallout from Sochi.

“They obviously did not say, ‘We do not want a repeat of Russia,’ but they obviously don’t want a repeat of Russia,” he says, “so I’m very confident that one of the considerations they’ll have for any host city coming forward is, ‘What is their human rights record?’”

“But what we were most concerned with was to change their bloody charter. Their charter does not mention sexual orientation, and I know they say, ‘Well, it’s covered by this all-inclusive discrimination,’ but I don’t agree, and my community doesn’t agree. And they’re saying, ‘Right,’ and they’re dealing with that.”

Although Stevenson expected the IOC to move slowly, he is heartened by the response so far, saying the pace seems to be moving more quickly than anticipated.

“For god’s sake, it’s not very long ago that in Canada we were far worse off as homosexuals than homosexuals are [in Sochi] now,” he says. “I don’t think we can start throwing stones too quickly.”

Stevenson hopes to meet with Sports Canada and the Olympic committees of Canada, Russia and other countries while in Sochi.