Tomorrow, on 26 February 2014, 'Russian LGBT Sport Federation' launch the Open Games in Moscow. The Games will last from 26 February to 2 March, and will combine competitions in eight kinds of sport with a variety of educational, advocacy, cultural, and entertaining events. The Russian Open Games are now bringing together more than 300 guests and participants from 11 countries and 22 regions of Russia, being the first LGBT sport and advocacy event of such scale in Russia.
Inspired by the Olympic presence and by Gay Games, activists with 'Russian LGBT Sport Federation' now face a tough fight. No impressions or hopes should remain that the organizers of this sporting event get to benefit from the post-Olympic flair in Russia – because they do not. Naturally, the assurances of non-discrimination and equal access to sport by the Russian authorities do not extend to anything outside of the Sochi games. The ‘excellent’, ‘welcoming’ atmosphere at the Olympics that has been praised by athletes and by gay members of some country delegations was nothing but a privilege awarded to them, and has nothing to do with reality – including the reality of doing sports in Russia.
The word ‘open’ in the Open Games’ title, being a conventional reference to ‘open to all’, ‘with an open mind’ and many other wonderful concepts, comes at a special price for Elvina Yuvakaeva, Konstantin Yablotskiy, and their fellow activists from ‘Russian LGBT Sport Federation’. For them, making the Open Games happen means navigating their way to openness through barriers, threats, and prejudice. Even harder – it goes hand in hand with a must for them to constantly question their aspirations, boundaries, and tactics, and, most importantly, to redefine ‘openness’ itself.
Imagine: in order to secure venues for the competitions (note: a whole variety of them is needed given the format of the event), Elvina and her colleagues have to conceal from venue owners what the event actually is. ‘After several refusals from venues, we made the decision to omit most details in our negotiations with potential lenders. At present, management at only one venue is informed about the nature of our event,’ says Elvina Yuvakaeva. Additionally, the organizers had to prepare to respond to any last-minute requirements from the management. Elvina says that, among other measures, they selected smaller, mobile banner holders ‘to be able to fold them up and remove right away should the venue owners request it’. Slogans and rainbow-themed decorations will not be used at most venues either.
A recent letter from the infamous St Petersburg deputy Vitaly Milonov to Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin requesting that the Open Games are cancelled means that the Open Games are for now the number one target for homophobic leaders and their support groups. Responding to ‘high risks of attacks by aggressive groups on the participants, simply speaking – pogroms’, Elvina says the Russian LGBT Sport Federation keeps all addresses and locations in secret, hires security guards, and has to close the event’s doors to those who did not manage to register in advance and pass the security check.
Another difficult decision for the organizers was refusal of participation to people under 18 years old (and there were several who wanted to sign up) – yet another illustration of the isolation that the ‘propaganda’ law brings to young LGBTs.
Even one day before the event the organizers cannot be sure that homophobic groups do not attempt to threaten venues to cancel prior agreements. That their locations were not leaked to extremists and street thugs. That there won’t be bomb hoax calls – by example of St Petersburg’s Side by Side Film Festival. What the organizers are sure about, however, is that the event will take place despite all these risks, and that those who are coming to Moscow this week will be persistent and determined to make it happen – because they join not simply to compete, but to claim their rights and to work their way to greater openness.
Let’s all thank those who have supported the Open Games and help to make them happen through media and fundraising outreach, as well by participation. These are hundreds of individuals and more than a dozen of organizations and groups internationally, including the Federation of Gay Games, Open Society Foundations, Athlete Ally, Arcus Foundation, COC Nederland, Amnesty International, British Embassy and embassies of Finland and France in Moscow. Open Games are supported by the coalition of LGBT organizations: ‘Russian LGBT Network’, ‘Coming Out’, Side by Side, ‘Rakurs’, and Out Loud.
Let’s wish best of luck to friends at ‘Russian LGBT Sport Federation’, and let’s join them in their efforts at least by watching closely the developments.
Spokesperson for the coalition of LGBT organizations:
‘Russian LGBT Network’ movement
‘Coming Out’ LGBT organization
Russian LGBT Sport Federation
‘Side by Side’ LGBT Film Festival
‘Rakurs’ LGBT organization
Out Loud project