U.S. delegation to Russian Olympics includes gay athletes
December 17th, 2013
06:25 PM ET
9 years ago

U.S. delegation to Russian Olympics includes gay athletes

Washington (CNN) – The United States' delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia won't include a member of President Barack Obama's family or an active cabinet secretary, but it will include openly gay athletes – a clear jab at Russia's recent anti-gay laws.

Billie Jean King, the tennis legend, will join figure skater Brian Boitano at the games' opening ceremonies on February 7, the White House said Tuesday.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House aide Rob Nabors and the U.S. ambassador to Russia will round out the delegation to the Sochi games.

King was one of the first professional athletes to come out as gay in the 1980s.

Two weeks later, a group led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will attend the closing ceremony. Speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, as well as hockey player Caitlin Cahow, will also attend. Cahow is openly gay.

It’s the first time in more than a decade the President, Vice President, First Lady or former president hasn’t attended an Olympic opening or closing ceremony. First Lady Michelle Obama led the delegation to 2012’s Summer Olympics in London, and President George W. Bush made the trek to China for Beijing’s games in 2008.

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife led a U.S. group to the last Winter Games, held in Vancouver.

The absence of high ranking U.S. officials amounts to a snub to Russia, whose relationship with the United States has fractured over the past year. Admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden, wanted on espionage charges in the U.S., was granted temporary asylum in Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has used Russia’s veto on the United Nations Security Council to block action in Syria.

Obama canceled a meeting with Putin that was scheduled for September, though the two met as part of a larger group of world leaders at the Group of 20 conference in St. Petersburg.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that though the President's schedule will not allow him to attend the games, he will support U.S. athletes from Washington.

Hayden also said the delegation is a reflection of the "diversity" in the U.S.

"The U.S. Delegation to the Olympic Games represents the diversity that is the United States. All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports. We are proud of each and every one of them and think they will serve as great ambassadors of the United States to the Olympic Games."

Fueling the rift between the nations are new laws in Russia banning gay “propaganda” – a law critics say is so vague that anyone can be prosecuted for wearing a rainbow T-shirt or holding hands in public with someone of the same sex.

Obama told Jay Leno in August he had "no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” and during his visit to Russia earlier this year, Obama met with the leaders of Russian social activist groups.

Filed under: President Obama • White House
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Tim

    To me this is just wrong, you should honor the host countries traditions, social norms.

    December 17, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  2. John

    Above the fray.................that is where we must stay.............the Russians are narrow minded.................

    December 17, 2013 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  3. Peppy

    Well since obammy has no patience im sure Putin will rollout the red carpet. Its going to be really embarrassing when Putin once again hands oblunder his own back side. You cant make this stuff up. Face it this admin cant even open a website. What a sad day when America showed its ignorance and voted this clown in again.

    December 17, 2013 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  4. rob

    Just one more in a laundry list of amature and stupid moves. His foreign relations is as brilliant as his healthcare, domestic spying, jobs, etc, etc, etc policies.

    December 17, 2013 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  5. Erick Holmes

    LOL. I bet Putin's happy about this. That's what he gets for harboring Ed Snowden, but knowing him, he probably could care less.

    December 17, 2013 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  6. Hayden Kash

    I have no patience for a President that has stepped out of the bounds of a decent society and openly, internationallly recognize gay participation in the Olympics. Those of us with Christ backgrounds find the President's open support of the gay world to be an insult to the decency of the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ as well as the president set by the Lord God himself. A healthcare Obamacare system that has interfered with the best healthcare system in the world, (that which was in America), nearly destroyed it by drastically causing costs to increase for us all just to cover most likely his illegals and who knows who. I don't support the gay thing Mr. President and your Obamacare is anti-American!

    December 18, 2013 06:01 am at 6:01 am |
  7. Marie MD

    Russia might want to look at Putin a little bit closer. He looks evil but all those shirtless photo ops?

    December 18, 2013 06:23 am at 6:23 am |
  8. A True Conservative

    Oh Yea!! That's the way build relationships! We were told that you would raise our standing in the world....I find it to be rather funny how you plan to do that...

    December 18, 2013 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  9. Tampa Tim

    I know several baggers who be upset with the White House not being ing attendance, because the republican idea of democracy coincides with Putin's

    December 18, 2013 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
  10. Peter Bishop

    So do Gay athletes look different then straight ones?

    December 18, 2013 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
  11. The Real Tom Paine

    Good. Make the Russians uncomfortable. We're there to compete and to make a statement about what we are as a nation, not to kiss Putin's ring.

    December 18, 2013 08:26 am at 8:26 am |