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IOC 'gets' gay rights issue: Vancouver envoy

IOC 'gets' gay rights issue: Vancouver envoyOpenly gay Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson pauses while speaking after it was announced he would represent the city at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on December 11, 2013. An openly gay city councillor sent as Vancouver's envoy to the Sochi Winter Games says he met with International Olympic Committee officials and says they understand the need to protect gay rights. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER - An openly gay city councillor sent as Vancouver's envoy to the 2014 Winter Games was rebuffed by the mayor of Sochi and failed to get a face-to-face meeting with the president of the International Olympic Committee.

But Tim Stevenson said he did meet with two high-ranking officials in IOC president Thomas Bach's office and he returned to Canada confident the committee "gets it."

"Absolutely, on sexual orientation, they've heard the message loud and clear," Stevenson said Monday. "I have no doubt in my mind that there's going to be a new direction."

Vancouver city councillors voted unanimously to send Stevenson, the deputy mayor and a longtime activist, to Russia to press for recognition of gay rights after the Olympic host country passed a law last year banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations." The Russian law includes fines for anyone involved in gay rights protests.

Sochi refused to host a "pride house," an LGBT-friendly venue introduced at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and Sochi's mayor stunned the world last month by declaring there were no gay people in his city.

Stevenson said that while he couldn't meet with the IOC president, he had a lengthy meeting with Bach's chief of staff and his director of communications. They told him the IOC will likely discuss sexual orientation as it conducts a sweeping review of the Olympic committee's anti-discrimination policy, which was previously launched by Bach.

Publicly, the IOC president has been circumspect.

Last week in Sochi, Bach told reporters the Olympic Charter stands against discrimination of any kind.

While the Olympic Charter does not specifically mention sexual orientation, Bach insisted such discrimination is included in the charter's current anti-discrimination policy. Asked whether there is a possibility of explicitly addressing sexual orientation, he made it clear the issue is likely up for discussion as the review proceeds.

"The Olympic Charter is not set in stone and, of course, we have to evolve and we have to adapt to modern times," Bach told reporters.

But the IOC president also criticized world leaders for playing out international politics on the Olympic field, subtly referring to the decision by some world leaders not to appear at the Games because of the controversy.

Russian officials have assured the IOC the controversial law will not be enforced against athletes participating in the Games, but Stevenson said he met with members of Sochi's gay community during his visit and life remains very difficult for Russian citizens who are gay, lesbian or transgender.

His repeated requests to meet the mayor of Sochi were rebuffed but the Vancouver council member and United Church minister said the Russian law has backfired.

"I think the IOC was terribly embarrassed by what happened in Russia, and the IOC does not like to be embarrassed," Stevenson said.

"Ironically, I think what Mr. Putin has done, rather than just doing his little laws in Russia, he has made this a huge worldwide event that has galvanized the gay community."

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