When the United States announced in December that it would send a White House delegation including three openly gay athletes to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, it was clear that a statement was being made. While many seem to support it, Italian International Olympic Committee member Mario Pescante reportedly isn't among that group.
According to Andrew Dampf of the Associated Press, via Yahoo! Sports, it is being reported by multiple media outlets that Pescante lashed out against the United States' delegation selection:
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). The games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sports supports daily.
According to Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic, President Barack Obama named tennis legend Billie Jean King, former figure skating star Brian Boitano and former Olympic hockey player Caitlin Cahow to the delegation.
When asked by the Associated Press to elaborate on his comments, Pescante denied having anything against gays, but voiced frustration with political demonstration at the Olympics:
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. 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.
Even after Pescante's explanation, there is still a great deal of outrage regarding his statement. Ryan Heath, who is the spokesperson for European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, even called for Pescante to step down from his post.
Per Kelly Whiteside of USA Today, the Sochi Games will mark the first time the U.S. Olympic delegation won't feature an American president, vice president or first lady since Sydney in 2000.
Russia has been criticized for its stance on gay rights after passing an anti-gay propaganda law back in August, according to Laura Smith-Spark of CNN.com, and President Obama made his stance clear by saying "nobody's more offended than me" regarding the anti-gay legislation.
If actions truly do speak louder than words, then it is obvious that Obama wasn't simply blowing smoke. Perhaps his delegation choice will rub Pescante and others the wrong way, but the United States has never been shy about sending a political message before, and he clearly still isn't.
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