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Glasgow 2014 must not duck difficult issues

It is unrealistic to imagine that international sporting events like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games can be divorced from politics.

They never have been and never will be. It is no surprise that, following the widespread coverage of LGBT rights in Russia linked to the Sochi Winter Olympics, the question of LGBT rights in Commonwealth countries has also come to the fore.

Forty-one out of 54 Commonwealth countries outlaw homosexuality, and Uganda and Nigeria treat homosexuals so harshly they make Russia seem almost enlightened. Life imprisonment, flogging and death by stoning are some of the "punishments" meted out to gay men and women in these countries.

It should go without saying that to stay silent about such unpardonable abuses, out of some misguided sense of decorum as the Commonwealth Games host nation, would be wrong. The organisers of Glasgow 2014 should not try to ignore this issue.

That does not mean they should feel compelled to align themselves with a particular campaigner or campaigning organisation - if they did so with one group on one issue they would have to do it with every group on every issue - but Glasgow 2014 should be prepared to be open and explicit about the values both of Scotland and of the Commonwealth Games, and the fact that the repressive policies on homosexuality in many Commonwealth countries are utterly inconsistent with those values. Fourteen years ago, MSPs abolished Clause 2A and since then, first civil partnerships and now gay marriage have been legalised. Politicians of all parties have shown moral courage in upholding equal rights; now is not the moment for them, or Glasgow 2014 as representatives of the city of Glasgow, to go mute on this issue.

It is not necessary to be hectoring or angry, just clear and firm. Glasgow will play host to political dignitaries from dozens of countries, and games organisers along with politicians should use this opportunity to promote dialogue. At dinners and receptions, and in the stands during lulls in the sporting action, opportunities will naturally arise to discuss human rights. Glasgow 2014 should not fear talking about it publicly either where appropriate.

Games organisers are supporting a "Pride House", a base for LGBT athletes and visitors, which is commendable; organisers insist, meanwhile, that they denied funding to a one-day conference on human rights as part of the cultural programme because that programme is very much arts-focused. So be it. It must be hoped, however, that the event may still run, even if not formally as part of the Glasgow 2014 programme.

There will be those who dislike the way the Sochi Games have been so caught up in political issues, but it should be seen as a positive. Without the Winter Olympics, the repression suffered by gay men and women in Russia would be little noticed internationally, outwith a concerned minority. Similarly, Glasgow 2014 is an opportunity, not only for a stunning festival of sport, but to try, respectfully, to change minds and improve lives.

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