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USOC chairman would vote to incorporate gay rights into IOC charter

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 | 8:48 p.m. CDT

PARK CITY, Utah — America's newest member of the International Olympic Committee would vote to amend the Olympic charter to list sexual orientation as a form of discrimination.

U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Larry Probst, voted onto the IOC last month, said such an amendment is one of the few avenues available to the USOC as it tries to send a message to Russia, which recently passed an anti-gay law, less than a year before it hosts the Winter Olympics.

The sixth item in the charter's "Fundamental Principles of Olympism" says "any form of discrimination ... on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement." It does not specifically mention sexual orientation.

"If it came to a vote of IOC members, I would absolutely vote yes to amend the charter," Probst said Tuesday during a news conference at the USOC media summit.

Probst reiterated that an American boycott of the Sochi Olympics is not an option, but asked what moves the USOC could make, both Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun mentioned the possible amendment, which would have to be done at a future IOC meeting.

"There are people who would like to see sexual orientation added to that list," Blackmun said. "We'd support a change in that direction."

Besides mentioning the amendment, the USOC leaders stuck mainly to their party line: They are not there to change Russian law and their top priority is ensuring a safe and successful Olympics for their athletes. They are also not telling their athletes to not speak up.

"First and foremost, we're a sports organization," Blackmun said. "The only organization in the world whose job it is to make sure American athletes are able to compete in the Olympic Games. We're not an advocacy organization or a human-rights organization. We're part of the worldwide Olympic movement, though. What we can do is advocate for change within our movement.

"We want to lead by example and advocate internally to make sure we, as a family, are sending the message that we don't tolerate discrimination."

Among the few athletes at this week's Olympic summit to speak out against the Russian law was skier Bode Miller, who called the existence of such a law "absolutely embarrassing."

Most others have said, in one way or another, that they'd let the USOC handle the politics while they focus on sports.

IOC officials have said they don't have the authority to intervene in Russia's lawmaking and are convinced there will be no discrimination against athletes or spectators at the games.

Among the other topics that came up during the hour-long session with reporters:

  • The USOC's potential bid for the 2024 Olympics. Blackmun said no decision had to be made until late 2014 and the USOC, if it decides to bid, would probably make the announcement with a bid city in place. "We've got to get to the very, very best city," Blackmun said.
  • Security. Blackmun said the USOC keeps open channels with the State Department to ensure athletes are safe for their trip to southern Russia. An Islamic insurgency is raging on the other side of the North Caucasus Mountains from Sochi. Russian officials have promised the safest games in history.
  • Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird highlighted a campaign to find more big-money donors and also unveiled a plan to open four "USA Houses" across America — similar to the ones the USOC opens in the Olympic city — where fans can watch the Games.
  • Blackmun said that because the USOC is privately funded, he didn't expect preparations for the Olympics to be affected by the shutdown of the federal government.
  • Chief of sport performance Alan Ashley was asked the usual question: How many medals does he expect? He gave the usual answer, which was very noncommittal. "I'm confident we'll be in the right place," Ashley said. Probst seemed as interested as anyone in Ashley's prediction. "I'm hoping to get a more definitive answer to that question in next week's board meeting," he joked.

The board meets next Thursday and Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo., during the USOC's annual assembly.


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