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Lawmakers criticise hosting of 2023 Games in Polish 'LGBT-free zone'

LONDON, Oct 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - European lawmakers criticised on Thursday a decision to hold the 2023 European Games in a Polish “LGBT-free zone”, in the latest international rebuke over the treatment of LGBT+ people in the country.

Organisers of the regional Olympic event chose the city of Krakow and the surrounding Malopolska region last year to host the event, but concern over Poland’s so-called LGBT-free zones has intensified in recent months.

Malopolska issued a declaration in 2019 saying it opposed “‘LGBT’ ideology”, a step taken by dozens of local authorities across Poland. Krakow has not passed any such motion.

Two members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and two lawmakers in Britain and Belgium said Malopolska’s stance meant it was not a suitable venue for the games.

“The European Games is an Olympic event and as such it should uphold the values of excellence, respect and friendship,” said Liz Barker, a member of Britain’s House of Lords and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights.

“Since the Malopolska region of Poland has declared itself an ‘LGBT-Free zone’ it is no longer fit to host this event,” she said in emailed comments.

Terry Reintke and Marc Angel, MEPs who co-chair the European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup, said the European Olympic Committees (EOC), to which it wrote a letter in September, had failed to take steps to protect and support LGBT+ athletes.

“It is incredible that such an organisation would not take further care of responding adequately to what are the questions many LGBTI persons will ask themselves when wanting to participate or watch these Games,” they said by email.

EOC spokeswoman Donatella Del Gaudio said that provisions on respecting human rights and preventing discrimination would be included in the hosting contract.

“The (EOC) has sought assurances from the organisers of Krakow-Malopolska and the highest levels of government that the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter will be fully respected,” she said.

The governments of Krakow and Malopolska did not respond to requests for comment.

LGBT+ rights have become a divisive issue in Poland since 2019, when the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) made them an election issue and claimed they undermined traditional values.

Polish government officials have previously denied the existence of what campaigners have labelled “LGBT-free zones”, saying discrimination is not tolerated in the country.

Still, Ben Weyts, the sports minister of the Belgian region of Flanders, told its parliament that international sporting events should not be held in such areas. (Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org)

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