THE BLOG
08/20/2013 05:33 pm ET | Updated Oct 20, 2013

Will Russia's Regressive Law Eclipse Olympics' Social Progress?

The developed world has been rocked by the recent introduction of "anti-gay propaganda" laws in Russia. Who would expect this sort of regressive legislation from a country that decriminalized homosexuality two decades ago, is a member of the G8 and G20 and has sought the world's attention and applause in bidding for and winning the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games?

The IOC and Olympic movement have possibly been the most surprised. Seven months before the Games are due to begin, a host country announces legislation that flies in the face of the fundamental principles of Olympism.

"The practice of sport is a human right," says the Olympic Charter. "The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity." Effectively criminalizing advocacy for the rights of the world's LGBT community at the Games does not promote a peaceful society, it discriminates, and certainly doesn't preserve human dignity.

How is the Olympic movement to respond?

When a bid city vies for the right to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the IOC considers stewardship of the natural environment, inclusiveness and social responsibility as much as the host city's ability to deliver a successful mega-sporting competition.

Vancouver 2010 established a new sustainability benchmark for the Winter Games, and firmly placed human rights as a core feature of its sustainability program. The 2010 Sustainability Scorecard for the Vancouver Games included strong results in areas such as ethical sourcing, Indigenous peoples participation, inner city inclusiveness and accessibility. London 2012 went on to set new standards for the Summer Games, with the introduction and delivery of a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy that set out to deliver a "truly inclusive culture where diversity is valued and celebrated."

Global expectations and best practices are now articulated in international standards including the Guidance on Social Responsibility (ISO 26000), the Event Sustainability Management Systems (ISO 20121) and the Global Reporting Initiative - Event Organizers Sector Supplement for sustainable event performance reporting (GRI EOSS)

When Sochi won the right to host the 2014 Winter Games the expectations were clear. And the city of Sochi, the Russian nation, the IOC and Sochi2014 Olympic Organising Committee all grabbed the mantel, recognising the potential for the Games to leave a positive social, environmental and economic legacy.

The Sochi and Krasnadar region is being transformed into a four-season resort destination providing a base for long-term economic development. Volunteerism, a concept not previously embraced in Russian culture, is being successfully fostered and encouraged, with the Moscow Times reporting that over 25,000 volunteers will work at the Games. Educational youth camps have been running in the Krasnodar region and throughout Russia to promote the Olympic ideal of peace, harmony and respect for cultural diversity. The design of the built environment in Sochi's Games precinct has been transformed to accommodate people with physical disabilities, raising the bar on inclusiveness and accessibility.

Putin's "anti-gay" law overshadows and undermines all the new and positive social and environmental initiatives that are part of the 2014 Games' vision.

So what to do? A boycott hurts the athletes who have trained and sacrificed for years. Returning the Games to Vancouver is a flattering idea, but at this late stage completely unrealistic. There is no clear-cut answer except for individuals, nations and the IOC to continue to decry this terrible law.

The Olympic Movement has a great capacity to drive social progress and the 2014 Winter Games are set to raise the bar on volunteerism, youth education, cultural inclusiveness and accessibility in Russia. It is horrifying to think that, if things continue, this recent legislation will brand a city, a nation and by association -- the Olympic Movement as regressive, when so much progress is poised to be made.

There is still time. We must hope that international pressure comes to bear and Russia repeals this law.

Ann Duffy is an international Sustainability and CSR adviser who has worked with the IOC, Sochi 2014, Toronto 2014 and Istanbul 2020. She was the Corporate Sustainability Officer for Vancouver 2010.