ROME -- A senior Italian IOC member criticized the United States on Wednesday for including openly gay athletes in its official delegation for next month's Sochi Olympics.
"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, in comments widely reported by Italian media. "The games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sports supports daily."
The Italian Olympic Committee would not confirm or deny Pescante's comments, but his speech was reported by the Gazzetta dello Sport and the ANSA news agency.
Asked for clarification later by The Associated Press, Pescante said he is not against gays.
"Of course not," the 75-year-old Pescante told The AP by telephone. "I just wanted to make the point not to let politics interfere with the Olympics."For the first time since 2000, the U.S. delegation to the Olympics will not include a president, vice president or first lady. President Obama is sending three openly gay athletes - tennis great Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow.
USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky declined to comment.
Appearing on "CBS This Morning: Saturday" last weekend, King said "our first job is to represent our country and our president."
"The Olympics are really, first and foremost, about the athletes, and I don't want anyone to lose sight of that because these athletes have worked so hard," she said. "... Our job is to go and cheer for them and, you know, say, 'We're here to support you in any way we can.'"In an interview with CBSNews.com in December, Cahow said that she doubted that Mr. Obama waited until the Sochi Games to send a message to Russia.
"He's been very clear about his thoughts about Russian policy, and he's been very clear about his thoughts on LGBT policy here at home," she said. "I mean, I'm going to Russia representing a country that's made dramatic shifts on these particular issues over the last few years."
As head of the IOC's International Relations Commission and a former IOC vice president, Pescante said he will put forth a proposal at the IOC session in Sochi so that in the future when the Olympic truce is signed at the United Nations it also will have a section devoted to political protests.
"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."
Pescante was the Italian government's supervisor for the 2006 Turin Games. Among his accomplishments he has brokered peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian Olympic officials over the past few years.