Gideon Sam the new president of SASCOC during the launch of "Our twelve for SASCOC's twelve by 2012" at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria. Picture: Masi Losi

Johannesburg - Sascoc president Gideon Sam is in hot water with gay rights groups after he reportedly derided the Gay Games at the Sports Industry Summit.

Speaking at the summit in Joburg on Thursday, Sam, said Sascoc did not govern the Gay Games, because the body was involved in the administration of “serious sport” in South Africa.

The Gay Games is the world’s largest sporting event organised by and specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual athletes.

While a copy of Sam’s speech is not publicly available, a flurry of reaction on Twitter from members of the audience suggests the statement was interpreted to have been derogatory.

Speaking to the Cape Argus on Friday morning, Sam admitted feeling a “ripple of dissent” moving through the room after he made the statement. He maintains he was misinterpreted.

Nonhlanhla Mkhize, director of the Durban Gay and Lesbian Centre, said that while she had not personally heard Sam’s comments, it was unacceptable for gay athletes to be belittled.

“If the statement was intended to belittle the Gay Games and gay athletes [who] compete there, then it is absolutely unacceptable. It saddens us to think that this could be seen as a less serious contest than other sporting tournaments,” she said.

“If it is indeed true that his statement was misinterpreted by the gallery, then we challenge him to come out and set the record straight. We would like Sam and Sascoc to open themselves up to the idea of engaging with gay sportsmen and women, and to show in their policies, and implementation of these, that they are truly committed to encouraging growth in sport across the board, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.”

Adam Fraser, the head of communication for the summit, said he was not present during the speech, but his attention was drawn to the Twitter reaction to it. “We are not a judge and jury; we provide a platform for leaders in the sporting community to express their views, and for debates in [this] community to be given a public space… I can’t give an opinion on Sam’s statement. We want sport in South Africa to improve, and one way that this can be achieved is through debate and dialogue.”

Sam has denied that his statements were intended to belittle gay athletes or the Gay Games. “I was merely stating a fact – that Sascoc does not have an associate membership of any federation involved in the management and promotion of sport for gay people in the country. I am a democrat, and believe in everybody’s right to be what they want to be,” he said. “As Sascoc we would be happy to engage with leaders of such a federation. Every sector of society has the right to empower themselves through… sport… as Sascoc it is our mandate to support such efforts.”

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Cape Argus