Obama to boycott Sochi Olympics, send gay athletes in delegation

The Obama Administration announced Tuesday evening that no member of the Obama or Biden families would travel to attend the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. While the official diplomatic party line from the White House is that the “president’s schedule doesn’t allow him to travel to Sochi,” the the subtext was clear: The move signaled disapproval of Russia’s anti-gay laws and social norms.

Underscoring the message, the U.S. delegation to the Games includes two openly gay athletes, tennis star Billy Jean King, who will attend the opening ceremony, and hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who will attend the closing ceremony.

No top brass from the Obama administration will attend, making 2014 the first time in nearly fifteen years that a top representative from the White House hasn’t attended the Olympics. Not even the First Lady will attend—the top-ranking official from the White House who will travel to Sochi is the president’s assistant and deputy chief of staff for policy Rob Nabors.

Obama rejected the idea of a full-on Olympic boycott over the summer when a Russian politician threatened to arrest any openly gay athletes or spectators in Sochi. “I do not think it’s appropriate to boycott the Olympics,” Obama said. “We’ve got a bunch of Americans who are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed.

The White House repeated that sentiment Tuesday while sending a strong message in boycotting on the executive level. “President Obama is extremely proud of our U.S. athletes and looks forward to cheering them on from Washington as they compete in the best traditions of the Olympic spirit,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye said, but added pointedly, “The U.S. Delegation to the Olympic Games represents the diversity that is the United States.”

Billy Jean King said she’s “deeply honored” to be participating in 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.”

I wouldn’t hold my breath on it changing Putin’s Kremlin all that much, but it’s a nice thought nonetheless. The Sochi Winter Games take place February 7 – 23.