Human Rights Lawyer Calls for Olympics to Ban Countries Criminalizing Homosexuality

A British human rights lawyer is urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban countries that criminalize homosexuality from participating in this summer's Olympic Games in London.

In opposition, others have argued that banning countries where homosexuality is a crime would mean the IOC should ban every country with a botched human rights record, which would greatly decrease membership in this year's games.

Mark Stephens, a British human rights lawyer who has previously represented such high profile clients as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during extradition proceedings, is the main voice behind the suggestion to ban countries criminalizing homosexuality from the Olympics.

"The IOC needs to come out of the closet," Stephens told The Associated Press. "Sport for all means all -- irrespective of color, gender or sexual orientation. It's a matter of human dignity."

There are about 75 countries, found predominately in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Middle East, in which homosexual acts are illegal. Of these 75 countries, eight of them have laws making homosexuality punishable by death.

Stephens has urged the ban in both a public lecture and an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper, in which he wrote, "It is entirely appropriate for the Olympics to be the forum for the promotion of LGBT rights."

"The true Olympic legacy is very different from the one sold to you by the IOC or the London organizing committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games," Stephens went on, adding, "the games in Ancient Greece were homage to the physical relationships between men and the male body."

Stephens has also urged all homosexual athletes to come out of the closet for the London 2012 Games, and for athletes who don't feel safe expressing their sexuality in their home countries to seek asylum in Britain during the games.

Many, however, reject the idea of using the Olympics as a platform to promote gay rights or political agendas, arguing that the event's motto, "sport for all," creates unity among countries of vastly different backgrounds under the common ground of sport.

For example, at the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, dictator Adolf Hitler had planned to showcase Aryan talent and prowess with the hopes that only white competitors would win medals. However, African-American sprinter Jesse Owens won four gold medals at that year's Olympics, which Hitler was powerless to control as the Olympics are an international, all inclusive sporting event.

Additionally, critics argue that if the Olympic Games would have to address one human rights issue, they would then be obligated to address other human rights issues, such as female infanticide, women's rights and religious persecution.

"The games would be badly depopulated if you exclude every government with a bad human rights record," Marianne Mollmann, a policy adviser with Amnesty International, told The Associated Press.

"But we certainly feel the IOC should be more vocal about these issues and bring them up actively with governments where it's clear there are serious violations," she added.

According to The Associated Press, the IOC has given no indication that it will merit Stephen's requests, especially as the Games are due to begin July 27, and competing countries' teams have already made preparations for the event.