WASHINGTON, December 20 (RIA Novosti) – US President Barack Obama said Friday that the inclusion of three openly homosexual athletes in the official US delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi demonstrates America’s commitment to judging people on their actions rather than their sexual identity.
“When it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance, we don’t make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation. We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the court,” Obama told a White House news conference.
In what was widely seen as a sharp reprimand to Russia over its controversial laws on homosexuality, the White House announced this week that gay tennis legend Billie Jean King and gay Olympic ice hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow would be included in the US delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games in February.
The US delegation to the opening ceremony will also include Olympic figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano, who publicly came out as gay two days after being named to the delegation.
The White House has touted the delegation members’ achievements in athletics, civic activism and politics as the basis for their selection, but the inclusion of openly homosexual athletes suggests that Russia’s so-called gay propaganda ban is at least part of the reason the three homosexual athletes were included.
Russia’s parliament passed a law in June forbidding the promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors, sparking an international backlash and fears for the safety of gay athletes and spectators at the Sochi Games.
While the law’s proponents argue that it is aimed at protecting children from harmful influences, critics allege that the move restricts freedom of speech and is part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.
The International Olympic Committee has stated that it is confident the law will not affect the safety of attendees to the Games, and Russian President Vladimir Putin said in October that Russia “will do everything … so that both the participants and guests feel comfortable in Sochi, regardless of ethnicity, racial heritage or sexual orientation.”
Obama told reporters Friday that the US delegation “speaks for itself” and noted that the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community chosen for the group are individuals are outstanding representatives for the United States.
“The fact that we’ve got folks like Billie Jean King or Brian Boitano, who themselves have been world-class athletes that everybody acknowledges for their excellence but also for their character, who also happen to be members of the LGBT community, you should take that for what it’s worth,” he said.
Obama on Friday cited pressing business at home for his decision not to travel to Sochi but noted that he has never attended Olympics in the past as head of state.
“Although I would love to do it,” he said. “I’ll be going to a lot of Olympic Games post-presidency.”
In addition to King and Boitano, the US delegation to the opening ceremony includes Janet Napolitano, the former US Secretary of Homeland Security, US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and White House deputy chief of staff for policy Robert Nabors.
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Ambassador McFaul, Olympic speed-skating medalist Bonnie Blair and speed skating medalist Eric Heiden are set to join Cahow at the closing ceremony.