Italian official criticizes U.S. for sending gays to Sochi Olympics

Italian official criticizes U.S. for sending gays to Sochi Olympics
Italian IOC member Mario Pescante criticized the United States for including openly gay athletes in its official delegation for next month's Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. A newly enacted law in Russia prohibits gay "propaganda" and punishes violators with fines, imprisonment or deportation. (Dominic Favre / Associated Press)

The International Olympic Committee official who supervised the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, criticized the United States on Wednesday for including openly gay athletes in its official delegation to Sochi, Russia, next month.

IOC member Mario Pescante was quoted by Italian media as saying he considered it "absurd" that the U.S. government was sending openly homosexual representatives to the Feb. 7-23 Games, alluding to the Russian parliament's enactment of a law criminalizing homosexual "propaganda."

World leaders and rights activists have announced they won't attend the Feb. 7 opening ceremony in protest of the law, passed last year, that subjects citizens and foreigners alike to fines or jail time for discussing homosexuality in the presence of minors or engaging with groups promoting the acceptance of same-sex relations.

"The Games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sports supports daily," Pescante was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency [link in Italian] and Gazzetta dello Sport.

Pescante, 75, later told the Associated Press in Rome that his comments during an IOC meeting in Milan on Wednesday were meant "to make the point not to let politics interfere with the Olympics."

Pescante said he would propose new language in the Olympic bylaws to more clearly restrict political protests at the Games.

"We've seen boycotts, concerns over Aborigine rights in Australia, the Tibet issue in China. It's enough already," Pescante told the AP. "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."

Three openly gay athletes are included in the U.S. delegation to Sochi: tennis legend Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow. King expressed concerns similar to Pescante's last week when she advised U.S. athletes to think twice about making political protests or gestures, noting that actions in violation of Olympic rules could strip winners of their medals or get them expelled from Russia.

For the first time in 14 years, the U.S. delegation won't be headed by the president, vice president or first lady, as the Obama administration seeks to signal its concern over the anti-gay legislation, which rights advocates fear could expose homosexuals to mistreatment and discrimination.

Twitter: @cjwilliamslat