Sochi’s Olympics ended on a high note with a closing ceremony full of spectacle and humor to make the world forget controversies over cost and human rights. But the next games are about to begin and could prove even more challenging.
The "Open Games" start Wednesday, the creation of Russia’s LGBT Sports Federation. Around 250 athletes from 11 countries are arriving in Moscow to compete in events including badminton, swimming and skiing over a packed five-day program. Athletes need not be gay themselves, but “pro tolerance."
- PHOTOS: Celebrities attend 'Avengers: Endgame' premiere in Los Angeles22 Pictures
- PHOTOS: Memorial spotlights the man behind Nipsey Hussle rap persona14 Pictures
The Federation states their aim is to challenge Russia’s laws on homosexuality, such as a ban on "promoting" or publicizing gay events. It hopes to “empower LGBT and other people to struggle for their rights in the homophobic environment."
The organizers, led by former security service employee Viktor Romanov and ex-figure skater Konstantin Yablotskiy, claim they have showed respect for the Sochi Games by timing their event to begin afterwards. Little dissent occurred during the Winter Olympics, with just one activist – an Italian – arrested in Sochi.
The Kremlin has refused to finance the Open Games but funding has been supplied from overseas. Foreign support will also be present at the events, including Dutch Sports Minister Edith Schippers, and U.S. diver and multiple gold medal winner Greg Louganis, who is openly gay.
The event has been attacked by conservatives, with legislator and architect of Russia's anti-gay law Vitaly Milonov demanding a ban on the Games, or for them to be held in private, stating, “If it takes place in public, it will become a nightmare”.
Security will reportedly be tight at the Games, but human rights groups fear violence.
“It is likely to have opposition from the authorities and the public, given the homophobic climate in the country,” Tanya Lokshina, Russia Program Director at Human Rights Watch, told Metro. “Organizers and participants are likely to face problems that Russian LGBT groups often deal with, such as cancellations of venues without prior notice, or attacks by ultranationalists with little or no protection from authorities.”