UK & World News

  • 18 December 2013, 1:54

Sochi Olympics: Gay Tennis Star In US Delegation

The US has named openly gay tennis legend Billie Jean King on its Winter Olympics delegation - a move that could anger the Russian hosts.

Many high profile figures have called for a boycott of the Sochi games in protest at Russia's treatment of its gay citizens, many of whom feel they are facing increasingly aggressive, and socially acceptable, homophobia.

The US team is also lacking a serving cabinet member during a time of tension between the two nations over Moscow's decision to offer refuge to fugitive American intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

By contrast, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill led the US delegation to the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.

The delegation at the opening ceremonies will be led by former homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano and includes King, retired figure skater Brian Boitano, US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors.

The US will be represented at the closing ceremony by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, McFaul, speed skating legends Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden and women's hockey player Caitlin Cahow.

Barack Obama said in August that he had did not agree with the idea of an Olympic boycott for the games that start on February 7.

The US president said he was "really looking forward" to US gay or lesbian athletes bringing home medals, which would "go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we're seeing there".

"If Russia doesn't have gay or lesbian athletes, then, it'll probably make their team weaker," he said.

Russia's parliament passed legislation in June banning what they called homosexual propaganda among minors, which they claim is needed to protect children's morality.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in October that Russia would go out of its way to ensure that athletes and fans at the Olympics will feel at ease "regardless of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation".

King's selection will be hailed in some quarters as a message directly from Mr Obama to Mr Putin.

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan hailed the president's decision as a "stroke of genius".

"Think of the millions of Russian citizens who are gay, or have a gay family member or friend, living in a nation where discrimination based on sexual orientation is not only tolerated, but promoted," Brennan wrote.

"And the US president sends one of the world's most recognisable faces of equality and inclusion to attend the Opening Ceremony in such a visible role."

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