This time four years ago, as Whistler rapidly approached the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics, I was riding the wave of palpable excitement. It was hard not to get excited seeing buildings wrapped in bright colours and waiting to welcome the best in winter sport. Our mountains transformed into genuine Olympic venues and what was once the much-debated Lot 1-9 took shape as the biggest music venue the Village had ever seen. An amazingly positive once-in-a-lifetime event was coming to our town!
But now, with the Sochi Games on the near horizon I am filled with both trepidation and hope. First, the trepidation. There have been consistent reports that these Games are a corrupt, over-inflated mess that contradict the spirit of the Olympics. No matter what Vladimir Putin says, the LGBTQ community is under attack in Russia with the increase of anti-queer hate crimes serving as proof. Renewed threats and acts of terrorism have plagued Sochi 2014 since the city first won the bid to host the Games. Hardly key ingredients for a positive “once-in-lifetime” experience.
Potential terrorism is top of mind as my wife, Maureen Douglas, will be there as part of the delegation for Vancouver called the Host City Pride House Mission. I keep reminding myself that when Mo and Vancouver Deputy Mayor Tim Stevenson are in Sochi it will be the most secure place on Earth.
Starting Feb. 1, they will be on the ground for a week to meet with Olympic committees from around the world and the IOC. There they will lobby the IOC to include language in its charter to explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ athletes. If they have time, they’ll probably watch the opening ceremonies on TV in Sochi before packing up and heading home. This is not a glamorous Games experience; this is a trip halfway around the world to work towards a more inclusive environment in international sport, which may then influence society as a whole. And this is what fills me with hope. And I know many share this hope.
Some members of Team Canada, like Whistler’s Mercedes Nicoll, Mike Janyk and Tyler Mosher, are not only incredible athletes but great allies to the LGBTQ community. They have all spoken in support of the Vancouver City Pride House Mission’s objectives when many wouldn’t.
But as our athletes prepare, I can’t help wondering if we’re sending ALL of our best athletes. I suspect there is some young gay man out there who quit ski racing because he got tired of being called a “fag” by less enlightened participants or a deflated young girl who packed up her hockey gear rather than deal with the assumption that she was a lesbian. Whether it’s verbal, violent or quietly pervasive, homophobia can squelch dreams, particularly for young people grappling with their sexuality and their place in the world.
This needs to stop. Homophobia is no more acceptable than racism, sexism or religious discrimination. It’s just another barrier constructed of ignorance and fear that prevents full participation in many aspects of life, including sport. But it’s a barrier we can break down if we all work together — all of us — gay and straight. Straight voices matter more in this than ever before.
You can help LGBTQ athletes gain full equality by engaging in the conversation. When the Vancouver City Pride House Mission is in the news, take time to let people know why you think the IOC needs to amend its charter to include “sexual orientation” in its non-discrimination clause. Let the power of your words help open the Olympic dream to every athlete.
Follow the Host City Pride House mission daily blog from Sochi at www.hostcitypridehouse.com or on Twitter at @hostcitypride.