From Olympic gold medallist to minister

Sophie Inge
Sophie Inge - [email protected]
From Olympic gold medallist to minister
Josefa Idem (L) in the 2012 London Olympics: Francisco Leong/AFP and (R) as the Minister for Equal Opportunities and Sport: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Judging from her predecessors, Josefa Idem is not a typical Italian minister for equal opportunities. Not only has she never posed topless, but she’s also an Olympic gold medallist. This week, she became the first Italian minister to announce she’d be joining a Gay Pride march.


Who is Josefa Idem?

She’s Italy’s Minister for Equal Opportunities and Sport. Aged 48 and married with two children, she started the job in April and is one of seven women in Enrico Letta’s 22-strong coalition cabinet.

Why is she in the news?

On Wednesday, she said that she’d be going to Gay Pride in Palermo on June 14th along with 100,000 other Italians - which will make her the first Italian minister ever to attend the event.

Her announcement comes just a week after Giancarlo Galan, a lawmaker from Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, submitted a draft bill to legalize same-sex unions in Italy. In the same week, France celebrated its first long-awaited gay marriage.

Idem will be joined at the event by Laura Boldrini, the president of the Chamber of Deputies.

Her name doesn’t sound very Italian...

She was actually born in Goch, West Germany. She obtained Italian nationality in 1992 after marrying her coach, Guglielmo Guerrini, with whom she has two children, Janek and Jonas - "her most prestigious medals" according to her website.

Tell me more.

Well, she’s not your typical politician. Before she entered politics 12 years ago, when she served as a Ravenna city councillor and sports delegate, she was better-known as a canoeist.

Her love of the sport began at the age of 11 - and when she was just 13 years old, she won a gold medal at the European Championships.

Since then, she’s competed in many Olympic Games, winning two silver medals in the 2004 Athens and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and a gold medal at the Sydney Games in 2000.

At the London games last August, Idem became the first woman ever to compete in eight Olympic Games when she qualified for the kayak final.

But sport, she says, is just one of her “many interests” - which include fighting ‘injustices against the weakest” in society. Among the causes closest to her heart are: the Italian Association for Multiple Sclerosis; Acqua e Vita, a water aid charity; and organ donation.

According to her biography on her personal website, she also speaks perfect English, Italian and scholastic French, as well as some Romagnol dialect.

Hasn’t she been in the news for something else recently?

Weeks after starting her new ministerial role, she spoke out in defence of Laura Boldrini who received hundreds of threats after calling for a law to defend Italian women from misogynist and violent acts.

“Hundreds of men, vile and without dignity, who consider it normal to insult and threaten a woman for her own opinions –indeed, probably just for the fact that a woman dared to express ideas – are a sign of a subculture that must be uprooted in this country,” Idem was quoted as saying by AFP.

Violence against women, she added, would be placed among the “priority items of the political agenda of this parliament”.

What else does she have to say for herself?

On the subject of sport, she writes on her website: “Is sport a sacrifice? A sacrifice is not having bread every day or a roof over your head – sport is a great commitment.”

When she was given the role of Minister for Equal Opportunities in April, a humbled Idem tweeted: “My hands were trembling. I feel the responsibility but I’m not afraid of it. I’m rolling up my sleeves to work in the service of the country.” 


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