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Italian Olympic official makes half apology for gay remarks

'Absurd' that US sending 'four lesbians' to Sochi

16 January, 14:48
Italian Olympic official makes half apology for gay remarks (ANSA) - Rome, January 16 - An senior Italian member of the International Olympic Committee apologized Thursday for "terms" he used to criticize US President Barack Obama in choosing openly gay athletes to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but he insisted that the Games should not be used for political purposes. "I'm not homophobic. Regarding gays I used inappropriate terms," said Mario Pescante, a former IOC vice president and current head of the IOC's International Relations Commission. Calling Obama's move an act of "political terrorism" at an Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) meeting Wednesday, Pescante added it was "absurd that a country like that sends four lesbians to Russia just to demonstrate that in their country gay rights have been established. The Games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sports supports daily". On Thursday he reiterated his opposition to "using the Olympics for political purposes". For the first time in 14 years, the American Olympic delegation will not include a president, vice president and first lady. Instead, representing the US are three openly gay athletes: former tennis great Billie Jean King, retired figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow.

The delegation was named last month amid Western backlash to Russia's discriminatory laws regarding the LGBT community. A former middle-distance runner, Pescante was Italy's supervisor of the 2006 Turin Winter Games and the head of the committee promoting Rome's abandoned 2020 bid. He is credited with brokering peace talks with Palestinian and Israeli Olympic officials in recent years.

Pescante has been harshly criticized at home for his comments. Prominent Italian gay rights group Gay Center called on him to resign from the IOC on Thursday. And former Italian sport minister and Olympic canoe gold medalist Josefa Idem said Pescante's "level of tolerance was truly too, too low," whereas Obama's delegation she deemed "was not a political provocation".