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Ear to the Ground

In a Rebuke to Putin, Obama Names Gay Athletes to Olympic Delegation

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Posted on Dec 18, 2013
qtschlepper (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Billie Jean King is an openly gay tennis great.

In a bit of a diplomatic dance, the United States’ official delegation to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia will include gay athletes but no current government officials, a rebuke to Russia over a raft of diplomatic disagreements, including anti-homsexual laws in the anchor state of the former Soviet Union.

Instead of being led by either of the Obamas or Vice President Joe Biden, the delegation to the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies and related events will be led by Janet Napolitano, the former head of homeland security and current president of the University of California, who will be joined by openly gay athletes, tennis great Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow, who twice won Olympic medals in women’s ice hockey. Other delegation members include figure skater Brian Boitano and speed skater Bonnie Blair.

This will be the first time since the 2000 games in Sydney that the U.S. delegation has not been led by a high-ranking government representative.

“It’s hard to look at this delegation without seeing it as a criticism of Putin’s anti-gay laws,” Andre Banks, executive director of equality organization All Out, told USA Today. “What it’s doing is showing the true power of the Olympics, the ability to move people, to change people’s minds and open them up to new ways of thinking. The delegation is shining a light on the values of the Olympics.” According to USA Today:

Cahow, a law school student at Boston College, was studying for her Constitutional Law exam (talk about irony) when the White House released the names of the delegation.

“It’s obviously a statement that’s being made, but I think it’s an incredibly respectful one,” Cahow told USA TODAY Sports. “Basically, the White House is highlighting Americans who know what it means to have freedoms and liberties under the constitution. That’s really what we’re representing in Sochi and it’s not at all different from what’s espoused in the spirit of Olympism.

“So I think it’s just a great group of people. I can’t believe I’ve been named one of them because it’s a remarkable roster and I just think that we’re going to represent what the best America can be. Hopefully, it will unify all of Team USA and send a message of love and acceptance to the world.”

The Washington Post framed the announcement against a backdrop of friction between the West and Putin’s Russia, noting that France and Germany already announced they would not be sending top government officials to Sochi. The Post notes that:

The Obama administration’s relationship with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin has deteriorated this year as the two countries have clashed on several issues. The United States blamed Russia, along with China, for blocking a United Nations resolution authorizing potential military intervention in Syria in the summer, and the two countries have failed to agree on a pact for broader nuclear disarmament.

The White House also was angered by Russia’s decision to grant temporary political asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked thousands of classified documents detailing the United States’ broad spying apparatus.

In September, Obama canceled a planned bilateral meeting with Putin ahead of an economic summit in St. Petersburg. Among other things, he cited Russian laws, passed in June, that ban the distribution of any materials to minors that suggest homosexual relationships are normal or attractive.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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