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Topics In the News
President Obama Names Olympic Delegation and Snubs Putin
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/18/13
Last updated on: 12/18/13
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Caitlyn Cahow, a member of the U. S. delegation.

On December 17, 2013, President Obama named the U.S. delegation to the Winter Games in Sochi and, in doing so, snubbed Vladimir Putin and Russia's anti-gay laws. The delegation includes no high-level U.S. officials, but does include openly gay athletes such as legendary tennis player and activist Billy Jean King and hockey medalist Caitlyn Cahow.

As Kelly Whiteside reports in USA Today, "The White House delivered a strong message of opposition to Russia's anti-gay laws Tuesday with the announcement of its delegation to the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics."

Like the delegation representing France, the American delegation to Sochi will include no high government official. Neither the president, first lady, or vice president, who led previous Olympic delegations, nor a current member of the cabinet will be included in either the opening or closing ceremonies.

The delegation will, however, include tennis great Billie Jean King, who has coached the U.S. Olympic tennis team, and Caitlin Cahow, a two-time Olympic medalist in ice hockey, who is also openly gay. Another member is figure skater Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion whose sexuality has been the subject of repeated speculation.

Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of Homeland Security and currently President of the University of California, has been tapped to lead the delegation.

The delegation also includes Bonnie Blair, five-time Olympic gold medalist in speedskating, and Eric Heiden, five-time Olympic gold medalist in speedskating.

A statement from the White House said that the delegation "represents the diversity that is the United States."

Although the White House statement did not mention Russia's anti-gay legislation, President Obama has been outspoken about Russia's discriminatory regime.

"I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them," he said.

He also remarked, "I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work, and I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently. They're athletes, they're there to compete. And if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track, or in the swimming pool, or on the balance beam, and people's sexual orientation shouldn't have anything to do with it."

Cahow, a law school student at Boston College, told USA Today that the composition of the Olympic delegation was obviously meant to make a statement. "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."

She added, "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."

Gay rights groups also viewed the announcement as a strong statement. Andre Banks, the executive director of All Out, said, "It's hard to look at this delegation without seeing it as a criticism of Putin's anti-gay laws. . . . 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."

Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First said, "We appreciate that decision [not to send high-level government officials] and we believe it's the right one."

Hudson Taylor of Athlete Ally, a group focused on ending homophobia in sports, said, "Having two prominent LBGT athletes in Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow guarantees that the U.S. will not shy away from supporting the LGBT community while in Sochi."

On August 12, 2009, President Obama awarded Billie Jean King the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. In bestowing the award on King, Obama said that today "we honor what she calls 'all the off-the-court stuff'--what she did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves, and to give everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation--including my two daughters--a chance to compete both on the court and in life. As Billie Jean once said, 'We should never, ever underestimate the human spirit.'"

In the video below, made in October 2012, Billy Jean King not only endorsed President Obama but made his support of glbtq rights a major reason to vote for his re-election.

In the following video, Caitlyn Cahow discusses her experience as a hockey player and her Olympic experience.

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