President Barack Obama said he won’t attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, because he’s too busy, and his choice of gay former athletes for his official delegation “speaks for itself.”
“We don’t make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation,” the president said at a White House news conference today.
The White House announced Dec. 17 that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden wouldn’t be attending the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremonies on Feb. 7. It’ll be the first time since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney that the U.S. delegation won’t include either the president, first lady or vice president.
The U.S. has had tense relations with Russia over foreign policy, human rights and Russia’s harboring of secret documents-leaker Edward Snowden.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also faced international criticism for passing laws to ban gay “propaganda,” with gay rights activists pressuring Olympic sponsors and encouraging athletes to protest.
Gay advocacy groups in the U.S. praised Obama’s decision not to attend the games. Today, Obama said he was busy dealing with health care, the review of National Security Agency surveillance and other issues in Washington.
“I would love to do it,” he said. “I’ll be going to a lot of Olympic Games post-presidency.”
The U.S. delegation will be led by former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and ex-Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, joined by openly gay athletes, including tennis star Billie Jean King, Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow, underscoring opposition to Russia’s treatment of gays.
“We judge people on how they perform, both on the courts and off the courts, on the fields and off the fields,” Obama said. That’s “a value that I think is at the heart of not just America, but American sports.”