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Obama sends gay icon Billie Jean King to Sochi games

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-18

The US sent a clear message to Russia over its controversial anti-gay policies on Monday by naming the openly lesbian former tennis great Billie Jean King to its delegation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Caitlin Cahow, a hockey player who is also openly gay, will represent the US at the closing ceremonies, the White House said in a statement. Cahow was on teams that won silver medals in Vancouver and bronze medals in the 2006 winter Olympics held in Turin, Italy.

Although Russia has thrown itself into staging the games, preparations have been overshadowed by international outcry of its human rights record and a recent law prohibiting “gay propaganda,” which critics have said discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said several times that gay athletes are welcome in Russia and that no discrimination will be tolerated. He has also stated that the law was to protect the country’s youth.

Boycott

The legislation, however, has drawn calls by human rights activists to boycott the Olympics. German President Joachim Gauck has announced he will not attend the Olympics even though he went to the 2012 London games, but he declined to comment on the reason behind his decision.

Likewise, France has said that neither President François Hollande nor any top French official would attend the Sochi games, also without offering an explanation.

President Barack Obama, speaking about the Russian law in a television interview in August, said 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."

The US delegation is also led by a lower-ranking official than has been the case for past Olympic games. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who is now chancellor of the University of California system, will lead the US group, the White House said in a statement.

In contrast, first lady Michelle Obama headed the US delegation to the 2012 London games and Vice President Joe Biden performed that role for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver.

The White House said the president's schedule did not allow him to travel to Sochi, and declined to say whether its delegation selection was deliberately intended to send Russia a message.

"The US delegation to the Olympic Games represents the diversity that is the United States," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism and sports."

The US delegation to the opening ceremony also includes Olympic figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano, presidential aide Rob Nabors, and US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

The United States has also been unhappy with Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has leaked classified documents revealing the extent of US surveillance of phone and email traffic around the world.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-12-18

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