Rugby Union star stands up for human rights in Russia

Rugby Union openside flanker, David Pocock © Amnesty International
Rugby Union openside flanker, David Pocock © Amnesty International

An open letter from Australian Rugby Union legend David Pocock, who has joined our campaign to end discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community in Russia before this year’s Winter Olympics.

David Pocock is arguably one of Australia’s most popular and accomplished sporting stars. For sports fans, you’ll know him as the Rugby Union openside flanker in both Australia’s national Rugby Union team, the Wallabies, and the ACT Brumbies.

For others not appreciative of all things sport, there’s another reason why you’re likely to know and respect Dave. That’s because, despite his full sporting schedule and commitments to two leading Rugby teams, he’s also a voice for people that aren’t always able to speak for themselves and enjoy the same rights as everybody else.

Dave proudly uses his public profile to champion the rights of LGBTI people and call for their basic human rights to legally be recognised, not just in Australia, but internationally.

He’s famously refused to marry his long-term partner Emma until same-sex marriage becomes a reality in Australia. And now, he’s put his words and name to Amnesty International’s campaign to end the discrimination against people who are gay in Russia.

Here, in this open letter, on behalf of Amnesty International, he explains why:

Dear Amnesty supporters,

IMAGINE if your country had laws that, instead of protecting you, promoted vigilante violence against you.

IMAGINE if your government, instead of defending your freedom, criminalised your very identity.

IMAGINE if your head of state, instead of representing you, encouraged others to hate you – simply because of who you love.

My name’s Dave, and I play Rugby for the Australian Wallabies. Like many, I’m looking forward to watching the world’s best athletes compete at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi (Russia) next month – but I’m also deeply concerned.

Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, has introduced laws that make it dangerous for same-sex couples to simply express who they are. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are attacked and harassed, and officials not only fail to investigate these hate crimes, they incite them.

The values of a ‘level playing field’ and a ‘fair go’ are part of Australian rhetoric, borne out of our sports-loving history. As the Games approach, it’s time for us to make these more than slogans and stand up for what’s right.

The LGBTI community in Russia certainly doesn’t get a ‘fair go’, as their very identities are criminalised. Homophobic laws impose fines on individuals and organisations accused of promoting ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’.

As international attention turns to Russia for the Games, it’s time to highlight the repression of the LGBTI community and to raise questions about a world that allows this discrimination to persist.

Russian authorities routinely refuse to grant LGBTI people permission to hold public events like pride rallies. On at least six occasions last year, activists were violently attacked during peaceful protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, with no action taken against their attackers despite overwhelming video and photo evidence.

But that’s not all. Over the last two years, Russia has passed laws that prevent people from enjoying all kinds of freedoms.

Members of the punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in jail after performing a song that criticised President Putin inside a church. More recently, thirty Greenpeace activists were arrested and charged with ‘hooliganism’ for protesting environmental destruction in the Arctic. There has even been a crackdown on human rights organisations like Amnesty – now forced to register as ‘foreign agents’ under threat of being fined or shut down.

Like Amnesty, I believe that hosting the Olympic Games is a privilege. Respect for people’s rights and freedoms must be demanded of any host country.