Updated — 11:10 a.m. EST
Multiple venues withdrew from hosting an LGBT sporting event in Moscow at the last minute, organizers said Wednesday, putting the entirety of the games under threat.
The Russian LGBT Sports Federation hoped the event, called the Russian Open Games, would grab attention in the week between the end of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 23 and the start of the Paralympic Games on March 7. More than 200 Russians had registered to compete, along with 30 foreigners from countries including the United States, Germany, and Sweden.
But unless they can find new hotel rooms and venues in the next few hours, the games may be canceled altogether.
The quick succession of cancelations smacked of government pressure, organizers said. Pressuring venues to cancel at the last minute is a tactic that Russian authorities have used in the past against government critics. Organizers also said in a statement on the Open Games Facebook page that some venues said they were responding to “calls from the administration,” referring to the presidential administration of Vladimir Putin.
“I’m sure that it’s government,” Elvina Yuvakaeva, one of the event organizers, said by telephone from Moscow. As of 5:30 p.m. Moscow time, Yuvakaeva said, all the venues had canceled except one contracted to host a table tennis competition, but she expected it would back out as well.
Yuvakaeva said organizers were still “trying to find some way” to hold the games. But the opening ceremony on Wednesday was canceled when they were kicked out of the club where it was scheduled to take place. When they then tried to hold a press conference outside, police shut it down claiming they were responding to a report of illegal drugs on the premises, another common tactic used against government critics in the past.
While the Russian LGBT Sports Federation is working to salvage the Open Games, the International Federation of Gay Games is trying to get the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to pressure Russian authorities to allow the event to proceed. The organization has launched a petition calling on IPC President Sir Philip Craven to threaten to boycott the Paralympic Games in Sochi if the Open Games are canceled. The petition notes that the IPC Code of Ethics specifically calls on “members of the Paralympic Family” to “fight against any discrimination,” including on the basis of sexual orientation.
IPC Communications and Media Director Craig Spence told BuzzFeed, “Sir Philip will be attending the Paralympic Winter Games as planned. The IPC is unaware of why the event in Moscow has been canceled, as the two events are not related.”
Spence added, “We’ve received written confirmation from the highest level from the Russian government that our handbook will be adhered to during the Paralympic Games. For that reason, we have no reason to object” to the Russian government’s conduct.