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Plans for '96 Olympics In Atlanta Threatened By Large Gay Protest Over Site Selection

WHEN officials of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) visited Atlanta this week to review progress for the 1996 Summer Games, they were greeted with protests by gay groups waving an Olympic flag with inverted pink triangles added to the five intersecting circles.

The activists were protesting the choice of nearby Cobb County for the women's preliminary volleyball competition, an issue that could potentially disrupt the Games themselves.

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The IOC was not enthused about tackling the issue. ``There's always a risk that groups will seize on the popularity of the Games and link their issues to that,'' noted IOC Execution Board member Richard Pound. ``We cannot come into town for a few days and say `Here's the solution.' ''

Last year, Cobb County commissioners passed a resolution saying ``that lifestyles advocated by the gay community not be endorsed by government policymakers because they are incompatible with the standards to which this community subscribes.''

Their move came in response to a decision by nearby Atlanta to extend health benefits to partners of homosexual city employees. Cobb County also pulled grant money from a play with gay themes.

Cobb County firms, worried about lost business if the sport venue were to be changed, have sought a compromise. The commissioners did issue a proclamation pledging to provide the best hospitality and facilities for all visitors and athletes and Bill Byrne, the commission chair- man, met with protesters this week to hear their position.

Pat Hussain, co-chair of the Olympics Out of Cobb protest group, said the proclamation was motivated by greed and that, until the resolution is rescinded, ``there can be no Olympics in Cobb County.'' The group plans a nationwide protest on June 25, most prominently in New York.

Olympic officials say that the new $48 million convention center in Cobb County is the only facility in metropolitan Atlanta that is not being used and that meets the International Volleyball Federal requirements. In early April, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D) of Georgia offered the use of a facility 125 miles away in Augusta.

While several congressmen have backed the protest, Rep. Newt Gingrich, the Republican Whip who represents a portion of Cobb County, urges that the site not be moved. ``There are absolutely zero reasons to move the Olympics out of Cobb because of political blackmail,'' he said. ``If we get into a political-correctness debate on venues, we are going to destroy the Olympics.''

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THE Atlanta Committee for the Games (ACOG), the group responsible for site selection, will not make a final decision until December. Dick Yarbrough, communications director, says, ``It is extremely difficult to move a venue. But whatever we do will be in the best interests of the athletes. We will not disadvantage someone who's been training to compete in Atlanta for six years.''

Human rights groups and congressmen have pledged their support to the campaign of Olympics Out of Cobb. To date, Rep. Pat Schroeder (D) of Colorado, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California, Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia, Reps. Gerry Studds (D) and Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson endorse the group's position.

Jon-Ivan Weaver, head of the protest group, remains hopeful that ACOG will do ``the right thing,'' but says, ``If the site is not moved before ... June, we will call for more than a million people to converge on Atlanta in '96.''

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