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IOC May Drop Isinbayeva as Ambassador After Anti-Gay Comments

Thursday Sep 5, 2013

The IOC will consider dropping Russian pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva as an Olympic ambassador following her comments about gay people, IOC President Jacques Rogge said Wednesday.

In his final solo news conference as head of the International Olympic Committee, Rogge also said the IOC has no power to influence Russia on the anti-gay legislation that has provoked an international outcry ahead of February's Winter Games in Sochi.

"One should not forget that we are staging games in a sovereign state and that the International Olympic Committee cannot be expected to have an influence on sovereign affairs of a country,'' Rogge said.

Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Isinbayeva spoke in defense of Russia's law against gay "propaganda'' after winning the title at last month's world championships in Moscow.

Isinbayeva condemned homosexuality, saying Russians have "normal'' heterosexual relations, and criticized two Swedish athletes who painted their fingernails in rainbow colors in support of gay rights. The next day, Isinbayeva said her comments in English may have been misunderstood and that she is against any discrimination.

Her initial comments appeared to go against the IOC ideals and the promotional role she has held since 2010 as an ambassador for the Youth Olympics. Isinbayeva also is the "mayor'' of one of two Olympic villages in Sochi, an honorary but symbolic and visible role.

Asked whether it was appropriate for Isinbayeva to remain as an Olympic ambassador, Rogge gave his first public indication that she could be removed from the role.

"This is something we will consider in due time,'' he said.

Russia's law prohibiting promotion of "nontraditional'' sexual relations has been denounced by activists and criticized by President Barack Obama. Activists have called for a boycott of the Sochi Games, although Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have ruled that out.

Rogge reiterated that the IOC has received assurances from the Russian government that it will abide by the Olympic Charter and that the law will not discriminate against athletes and spectators in Sochi.

Rogge was asked whether the IOC has a moral obligation to speak out strongly on such issues with host countries.

"We have clearly, on various occasions, expressed our view on situations in countries, but we are restricted in our power and our actions by the fact that we are the guest of a sovereign country where we hold the games,’’ he said.

Rogge said preparations were on track for the Sochi Games, with only "fine-tuning’’ left before the opening ceremony on Feb. 7.

"We are very optimistic,’’ he said. "Sochi will be ready.’’

Rogge was more cautious about the buildup for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which have been dogged by various construction delays.

"It’s evident that there are very tight deadlines which will have to be respected,’’ he said. "There is a lot of infrastructure where the construction has to be speeded up. I’m optimistic that everything will be ready for the test events, but the time is going very fast.’’

Rogge spoke at a news conference after chairing his final executive board meeting as IOC president. The 71-year-old Belgian is completing 12 years in office, with his successor to be elected Tuesday from among six candidates.

The full IOC will vote Saturday on the host city for the 2020 Olympics, a three-way contest between Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul.

All three bids are saddled by serious issues: Tokyo is dealing with the leak of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant, Istanbul the civil war in neighboring Syria, and Madrid the financial crisis in Spain.

"I’m not sad about the fact that these questions are raised because the games are organized in something that is not a vacuum,’’ Rogge said. "The games will be organized seven years after the decision of the IOC membership and it’s absolutely legitimate that the members look forward, not just to the situation today, but to what could be the situation in seven years’ time.

"And then all the aspects, the financial, social or whatever have to be taken into account.’’

Rogge downplayed the potential impact of a front-page report Wednesday in the Spanish daily El Mundo newspaper claiming that 50 IOC members have promised to vote for Madrid. The paper published the names and some photos of the members it claimed support Madrid - an embarrassment for the bid team.

"I pay absolutely no attention or credit to this kind of information,’’ Rogge said. "You should never forget that the vote of an IOC member is a secret vote. We push a button on the voting box and only the person who pushes the button knows how he or she has voted.

"Is this going to harm the candidature of Madrid? My answer is no, because my colleagues do not believe also in this. So definitely no.’’

As for his final days as IOC president, Rogge said he was bowing out "without any nostalgia.’’

"I did my duty,’’ he said. "I did what I had to do. If it has benefited the IOC, I’m happy.’’

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