MOSCOW, December 18 (RIA Novosti) – US President Barack Obama dealt a sharp reprimand to Russia over its anti-gay laws on Tuesday by including two openly homosexual athletes in the official delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and declining to attend the Games himself.
The White House announced that Billie Jean King, a gay former tennis champion, and Caitlin Cahow, a gay Olympic medalist in ice hockey, would be included in the US delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games in February.
For the first time since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, the US president, vice president and first lady are to be absent from both delegations.
White House officials said in a statement that Obama would be too busy to attend the Games, but that the delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States.”
“All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in the statement.
The US joins France and Germany in excluding senior government leaders from attending the Games.
Though Obama has not commented directly on the grounds for the snub, the inclusion of openly homosexual athletes suggests that Russia’s so-called gay propaganda ban is at least part of the reason.
Russia’s parliament passed a law in June forbidding the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations to minors, sparking an international backlash and fears for the safety of gay athletes and spectators at the Olympics in the Russian resort city of Sochi.
The International Olympic Committee has stated that it is confident the law will not affect the safety of attendees to the Games.
The full US delegation to the opening ceremony includes Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California system and former US Secretary of Homeland Security, US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy Robert Nabors, tennis hall-of-famer Billie Jean King, and Olympic figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano.
The closing ceremony delegation includes US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Ambassador McFaul, Olympic speed-skating medalist Bonnie Blair, ice hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow and speed skating medalist Eric Heiden.