Why I pulled out of the chance to speak at the International Olympic Committee/UNEP Sport and the Environment Conference



Over the summer I was approached to see if I was interested in speaking at the International World Conference “Sport and the Environment – Changing Today for a Better Tomorrow” (October 20th to November 1st) organized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 

I felt very privileged to have been approached to speak on a platform with HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco ( who I had the pleasure to meet at the Monaco Oceans Workshop for Rio+20), Ms Claudia Bokel IOC Member, Vladimir Lukin President of the Paralympic Committee of Russia and Sonali Prasad a youth reporter.  The conference looks amazing and will have plenary sessions on:


  • Beyond the Sporting Message: A Collective Vision for Sustainable Development
  • Legacies of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Bid for Sustainable Development 
  • Showcasing Innovation through the IOC Sport and Environment Award 
  • The Environmental Sustainability Matrix in Sport: Securing Progress

I really admire the work that UNEP has done with the IOC and many stakeholders to address the issues of making both the Winter and Summer games more sustainable. They have also used the Games as a mechanism to engage in wider issues of environment and sport.  

I was very much looking forward to the event and supporting the work of both UNEP and the IOC. It was therefore with deep sadness that I had to write to them and to say I would not be available to speak at the conference. The reason was the recent anti-gay legislation in Russia, where the conference and the Winter games are being held.

All my life I have campaigned about social justice. My youth was spent campaigning against Apartheid and I spent many days and nights sleeping outside the South African Embassy in London as part of that activity. 

I joined and marched with the Anti-Nazi League when they challenged the takeover of parts of the east end of London by fascist organizations such as the National Front and the British National Party. It didn’t harm that we got to listen to the Tom Robinson Band or the Clash as we marched as they played off the back of big Lorries.

I supported the call for the decriminalization of same sex activities in the UK which were only brought in line with the European Commission on Human Rights in 2001 (age of consent is now 16).

In the 1980s I slipped into green politics through losing a vote but that is another story.
When Nelson Mandela was released and came to the UK I took my son Robin out of school as an eight year old to go and see him at the South African Embassy. The values we teach our children are one of the main contributions to their life we can make as parents, but we must live those values ourselves. 

One of the very few positive outcomes from the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 was the announcement that Russia would ratify the Kyoto Protocol and with Canada’s similar announcement it ensured it coming into force in 2005. Russia had also taken a lead with France and Germany calling for a second UN resolution to go to war with Iraqi, something I supported. 

I had the pleasure in 2005 of being asked to be one of the international civil society advisers to the Russian Presidency of the G8. Russia was the first G8 country to bring in front of civil society all the G8 Sherpa’s (Sherpa’s are the senior government official who is preparing the governments input to the G8), the US Sherpa was clearly uncomfortable about this. President Putin met with those on the International G8 civil society Advisory Board and issues that we cared about did get some traction that year.

However, clearly its legislation that individuals and organizations should not promote “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” does not accept LGBT rights as equal sexual preference. 

Furthermore, the legislation carries large fines: $120-$150 for individuals, and $24,000 to $30,000 for registered organizations which can be on the internet or in the media.
The law has no legal definition for what is considered ‘propaganda’ or ‘nontraditional sexual relations’ which are the key operative words in Article 6.21.  The bill clearly resembles a bill tabled and later withdrawn in 2004. Back then, the Deputy Speaker of the State Parliament and the President of the Russian Olympic Committee said that this bill would: 

“Contradict article 29 of the Russian Constitution, as well as articles 8, 10, and 14 of the European Convention on human rights.”

The same can be said about the current legislation passed by Russian lower parliament.
Social justice is at the core of my politics. It’s my hope that Russia will reconsider what it has done in light of world opinion. As one of the world’s major political powers Russia has a leadership role to play but not this kind of leadership. 

The IOC should also consider its rules which say Members should: “Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement (rule 6).”

I write this on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther Kings ‘I Have  a Dream’ speech I believe we all have the responsibility to speak up, you, me, governments, the UN and to be reminded of what the great man said:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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