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Olympics Committee Still Won’t Say How It Will Deal With "Propaganda" In Sochi

With activists calling for demonstrations of opposition to Russia’s anti-LGBT propaganda law in Sochi, the International Olympic Committee won’t specify how it will respond to violations of its own propaganda ban. “[T]he lack of clear guidelines as to authorized and unauthorized behaviors encourages self censorship,” an advocate says.

Nikolay Petshak carries the Olympic torch as he leads a group of members of local winter swimming clubs during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch relay in the waters of the Yenisei River in Russia’s Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, November 26, 2013. Ilya Naymushin / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The International Olympic Committee still is not saying how it plans to implement a rule banning demonstrations and “political propaganda” at Olympic sites during the Sochi Winter Olympics — despite an announcement Tuesday that its executive board had discussed that very topic.

“Specifically on the implementation of the rules, the IOC would always take a sensible approach when dealing with potential actions and always act on a case by case basis,” IOC spokeswoman Emmanelle Moreau told BuzzFeed — the same statement she provided to BuzzFeed about the rule in August.

[Update: “The principles were discussed in broad terms but the EB did not enter into specific scenarios,” Moreau explained when asked how Rule 50 would be implemented in Sochi.]

One group advancing LGBT athletes’ participation in sports said the lack of clarity from the IOC — less than two months from the start of the games — would silence some athletes.

“[T]he lack of clear guidelines as to authorized and unauthorized behaviors encourages self censorship, with athletes erring on the side of silence, even in cases that the IOC would likely find unobjectionable,” Marc Naimark, a spokesman for the Federation of Gay Games, said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed.

In its own news release Tuesday following the IOC’s executive board meeting, the IOC noted its board “discussed rules 40 and 50 of the Olympic Charter and the information that will be made available to athletes and National Olympic Committees about how those rules will be implemented.”

While Rule 40 relates to athlete eligibility, Rule 50 has garnered attention for its ban of any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” at “any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

The potential for demonstrations and similar efforts have been advocated for by LGBT activists, dissatisfied with Russia’s anti-LGBT laws — primarily the country’s own propaganda ban, which makes virtually all public discussion of LGBT issues illegal — and the IOC’s lack of response to the law.

Many LGBT activists have called on people attending the Winter Olympics to take a variety of actions, from speaking out against the laws to showing solidarity with LGBT people through display of rainbows or other LGBT rights symbols. If done at Olympic sites, those actions could violate Rule 50 — whose ultimate penalty is “disqualification or withdrawal of the accreditation of the person concerned.”

Of the IOC dissemination of information regarding the rules’ implementation, Moreau told BuzzFeed that “National Olympic Committees (NOCs) are briefed on a number of topics including rules 40 and 50 and social media guidelines. This is no different from what was done prior to the Games in London (in 2012) or Vancouver (in 2010).”

“The IOC Executive Board yesterday simply approved the information that will now be made available to athletes so that they are aware of the rules and understand why they exist,” she stated. “You will understand that we are not in a position to share this information as the letters have not yet been sent to the NOCs.”

Naimark, the Federation of Gay Games spokesman, was disappointed with the situation, saying, “We expressed our hope that these would provide clear indications on what actions would be accepted and what actions would expose athletes to sanctions. From the description of the guidelines, it appears that such clarity is not on offer.”

The specifics of the executive board’s discussion of implementation of Rule 50 matter because, according to the IOC charter’s discussion of Rule 50, “The decisions of the IOC Executive Board regarding this matter shall be final.”

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