By NATALIYA VASILYEVA
SOCHI, Russia — The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday defended the removal of an Italian gay rights activist from a Sochi arena, saying she was “escorted from there peacefully” and not detained.
Former Italian lawmaker Vladimir Luxuria was taken away by four unidentified men in a car with Olympic markings as she tried to enter an arena Monday night for a women’s hockey game.
Luxuria, dressed in rainbow colors, had been walking around Olympic Park for nearly two hours, accompanied by a scrum of reporters. Most of the Russian spectators seemed clueless about the gay rights message and some approached her to take a picture, thinking she was a carnival character.
Luxuria later told The Associated Press she was kept in the car for about 10 minutes, then released in the countryside after the men had taken her Olympic spectator pass.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Tuesday that “what happened yesterday is still a little bit unclear,” but said Luxuria had set out to demonstrate at the stadium.
“I know her stated aim to demonstrate in the venue and I believe after a couple of hours when she finally got to the venue I think she was escorted from there peacefully, not detained,” Adams said.
He said Olympic Park and the venues are not the right place for demonstrations, and added: “We would ask anyone to make their case somewhere else.”
The IOC has strict rules against protests or propaganda during competitions, outlawing any demonstrations in Olympic venues. The IOC contends that allowing someone to display messages not tied to the games would encourage others to use the Olympics for their own gain.
Earlier in the games the IOC reprimanded athletes for wearing armbands and stickers to commemorate the dead.