News+Politics
Obama Taps Gay Tennis Champ Billie Jean King To Be U.S. Delegate In Sochi
December 18, 2013
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(Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)

U.S. tennis legend Billie Jean King lamented recently in an interview with USA Today that at the age of 70, she's well beyond being able to compete at the Olympics. It looks like she'll get her chance to represent her country in another way when she attends her first Olympics this February.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced today that he's chosen King, who is openly gay, to go to Russia as an official U.S. Olympic Committee delegate in Sochi.

The former World No. 1 pro tennis player will be one of two homosexual delegates representing the U.S. The other is hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who will be attending the closing ceremony.

King will be there for the opening ceremony.

“I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people,” she said in a statement.

The inclusion of gay representatives on the U.S. delegation has been interpreted by news outlets such as Bloomerg, AFP and The Associated Press as a message from Obama that the U.S. opposes Russia's anti-"homosexual propaganda" laws — the object of criticism and demonstrations by human-rights groups. In an op-ed, USA Today sports reporter Christine Brennan hailed the decision as "a stroke of genius."

According to Policy Mic, the European Court of Human Rights fined Russia in 2011 for violating the European Convention by banning 164 pride events and marches between 2006 and 2008. This June, a bill signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin banned the distribution of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors."

The White House said Obama will not be attending the Games due to a busy calendar. This will be the first time since the 2000 Sydney Olympics that a sitting president, vice president, first lady or former president will not be attending an Olympic games.

White House spokesperson Shin Inouye did not directly address the controversy surrounding gay rights in Russia during the announcement, but said the delegation "represents the diversity that is the United States.”

He added that Obama "knows they will showcase to the world the best of America — diversity, determination and teamwork.”

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said he hoped the decision to send homosexual delegates will show the "people of Russia and the rest of the world that the United States values the civil and human rights of LGBT people."

Via USA Today

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