Italian IOC member: It’s absurd for America to include ‘4 lesbians’ in its Olympic delegation

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A senior International Olympic Committee member is so angry with the United States for including openly gay athletes in its official delegation for the Winter Olympics that he can’t even get the figures and gender correct in his criticism.

“It’s absurd that a country like that sends four lesbians to Russia just to demonstrate that in their country gay rights have [been established],” Mario Pescante said at an Italian Olympic Committee meeting in Milan.

At the last count there were two lesbians and a gay man included in the US delegation.

Mr Pescante added: “The Games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sport supports daily.”

The Italian Olympic Committee would not confirm or deny Mr Pescante’s comments, but his speech was reported by the Gazzetta dello Sport and the ANSA news agency.

The 75-year-old later denied accusations of homophobia. “Of course not,” he said. “I just wanted to make the point not to let politics interfere with the Olympics.”

“We’ve seen boycotts, concerns over Aborigine rights in Australia, the Tibet issue in China. It’s enough already,” Mr Pescante told the Associated Press. “There are always going to be issues wherever the Games are held, but the best way to combat these issues is by letting the Games unfold and sending thousands of journalists to these places to report on what is going on there.”

In December, US President Barack Obama named gay former tennis champion Billie Jean King as part of America’s delegation to the Winter Olympics.

She’ll be joined on the delegation by two openly gay former Olympic athletes — figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow.

For the first time since 2000, the US will also not send a president, former president, first lady or vice president to the Winter Olympics.

On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin once again moved to dismiss concerns over Russia’s anti-gay laws by saying that no athlete would face discrimination at next month’s Winter Olympics.

The Games are taking place in the Russian city of Sochi from 7 February.

The UK Government confirmed on Wednesday that Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, will attend the Games. 

Last month, PinkNews revealed that Sports Minister Helen Grant also plans to attend the Winter Olympics – although Prime Minister David Cameron will not.

Downing Street denied it was because of Russia’s decision to implement anti-gay laws. A source said: “The PM believes in engagement. He doesn’t think that boycotts and grand gestures achieve much.”

Last weekend Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain will continue urging Russia to protect LGBT rights and suggested that openly gay sports stars could be included in the UK’s Olympic delegation.

However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office later played down the remarks about the UK delegation.