The White House announced that neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden are going to the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The U.S. delegation will be led by a former Cabinet secretary and a deputy secretary of state, and it will include two openly gay athletes — tennis legend Billie Jean King and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow — in an apparent bid to highlight opposition to Russia’s anti-gay laws.
This will mark the first time since the Summer Games in Sydney in 2000 that a U.S. Olympic delegation did not include a president, first lady or vice president. The White House made the announcement in a news release late Tuesday.
Officials said Obama’s schedule would not permit him to attend the Games during a two-week period beginning Feb. 7, although they did not specify what the president would be doing instead. Obama, a major sports fan, is “extremely proud” of the U.S. team and “looks forward to cheering them on from Washington,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in a statement.
The U.S. delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States,” Inouye said. “All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports.”
In keeping top officials away from Sochi, the United States joins France and Germany among the nations whose senior government leaders will not attend. The Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group, hailed the announcement and called Russia’s anti-gay laws “heinous.”
Sending Billie Jean King has a little touch of sending Jesse Owens to Berlin in 1936.