Chamber of Commerce writes letter to IOC on human rights 

IOC needs to take action: Litwin

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The Whistler Chamber of Commerce is doing its part in supporting human rights by lobbying the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The organization's president, Val Litwin, wrote IOC president Thomas Bach on Feb. 17 encouraging him to recall the Olympic Charter's commitment to "cooperate with competent organizations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity."

Litwin sent the letter as Russia's anti-gay stance threatened to overshadow the Olympic Games in Sochi, which ended Feb.23. The Games were held without any reports of human rights violations so far.

"The tone of our letter is really one of measured call to action," said Litwin.

"We think the IOC is doing incredible work and certainly their openness to this conversation is evident. The intent of the letter was a call to recall their charter and to embrace moments where the IOC can make a statement in support of humanity, and not aligning with what I think we can all agree are quite arcane laws."

In the case of Sochi, homophobic laws were passed after the Russian city was chosen to host the Olympic Winter Games, so the issue developed after the IOC awarded Sochi the Games.

"Leading up to the Olympics many of us in the community up here were feeling quite exasperated," said Litwin. "Every time you log onto GlobeandMail.com or open a paper it's just more about Russia's anti-gay stance.

"We felt compelled to speak up and write a letter to the IOC."

Maureen Douglas was in Sochi between Feb. 1 and 9 to tackle this issue, as part of a delegation put together by the City of Vancouver. Douglas did some consulting work for Sochi and she was the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games' liaison to Whistler PRIDE House.

Openly gay Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson was also part of the delegation sent to Sochi. The group met with a number of people to share thoughts on human rights at the Olympics, and to push for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) rights to be enshrined in the Olympic Charter.

"The one and only meeting that really mattered most of all was that meeting with the IOC," said Douglas.

The group almost got a meeting with the mayor of Sochi.

"We were very explicit in the message we sent through to the mayor's office in Sochi," Douglas said. "We'd sent a request early once we were there, and we were very clear that we were leaving in the very early hours of Feb. 9."

She explained that the mayor's office called on Feb. 7 to see if the delegation could meet the mayor on the morning on Feb. 9. Douglas responded by asking for just 10 minutes at any time with the mayor on Feb. 8, but the meeting couldn't be arranged.

"We weren't ever sure if he ever knew exactly who we were, but they were saying he had zero time to meet on the eighth," said Douglas. "We weren't completely surprised given that we were some of the people on the ground making it clear that the mayor was obviously mistaken and there were indeed gay people in Sochi."

Douglas said the pre-Games reports of the mayor telling reporters there were no gay people in Sochi was damaging to the mayor.

"Those aren't the headlines most world mayors like to make," she said.

The three goals Douglas' group entered Russia with were met — they were to discuss sexual inclusion at the Games, bring forward the idea of having pride houses at the Olympics and to connect with the LGBT community in Sochi and Russia.

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