Mario Pescante, an Italian IOC member, criticized the United States delegation to the Sochi Winter Olympics for its inclusion of LGBT sports legends.
“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 on Wednesday, according to Yahoo Sports. “The games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sports supports daily.”
Four lesbians? In December, President Obama named tennis legend Billie Jean King, figure skating champion Brian Boitano, and Olympic medaling hockey player Caitlin Cahow to the American delegation. The delegation is led by University of California President Janet Napolitano (she had been United States Secretary of Homeland Security). But of this delegation, King and Cahow are out lesbians. Boitano is a gay man who came out after being named to the delegation, and Napolitano, despite having been the subject of some lesbian rumors (likely for being a strong politician and not having married) is certainly not an out lesbian.
The AP later asked Pescante for clarification on whether he is antigay. “Of course not,” Pescante said. “I just wanted to make the point not to let politics interfere with the Olympics.”
The IOC might have prevented that itself, by not awarding such an antigay country the Olympic Games in the first place — or by insisting that Putin’s Russia state unequivocally that no LGBT athletes or supporters would be fined, harmed, detailed, or deported for expressing their views or identities. The IOC has failed to do that, and failed to ensure the safety of LGBT athletes and visitors, and even the State Department has been forced to specifically note that LGBT visitors to Russia are not safe.
Moreover, Pescante is no neophyte when it comes to the Olympics, having been involved in the Turino Games in Italy in 2006, and was vice president of IOC before resigning that post in 2012. Human rights is a central tenet of the Olympic philosophy, and human rights have an absolute place on the Olympics’ world stage. It’s inconceivable that the naming of such laudable sports legends to the delegation is in any way appropriate. In fact, it’s the embodiment of spirit of the Olympics.