Obama won’t attend Russian Winter Olympics in Sochi but will send gay inclusive delegation

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US President Barack Obama has named two gay sports stars as part of America’s delegation to the Winter Olympics in Russia – but in a significant move has confirmed that he will not be attending the event himself.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King will represent the US delegation for the opening ceremony.

Ice hockey player and Olympic silver and bronze medalist Caitlin Cahow, 28, will represent the US for the closing ceremony.

For the first time since 2000, the US will also not send a president, former president, first lady or vice president to the Winter Olympics.

Last week, White House Press secretary Jay Carney said: “I can be very clear that our views on the issues that you mention with regard to Russia’s civil rights record have been abundantly clear, and we’ve made it clear that we expect Russia to conduct the Olympics in a way that respects the rights of all participants.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Billie Jean King said: “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.”

Meanwhile, former UK Foreign minister Denis MacShane has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to personally boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in protest at President Vladimir Putin’s “rank homophobia”.

In response, Downing Street said it “doesn’t usually talk about the Prime Minister’s travel plans in advance.”

On Monday, French President Francois Hollande became the most high profile leader to snub the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.

German President Joachim Gauck also said he was not going to the Games.

However, both President Hollande and President Gauck failed to state their official reasons for not attending.

Last week, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding announced on her official Twitter account that she would “certainly not go to Sochi as long as minorities are treated the way they are under the current Russian legislation.”

Last Thursday, President Vladimir Putin defended Russia’s anti-gay laws by saying they protect against the “destruction of traditional values”.

A federal bill banning gay “propaganda” was signed into law by President Putin in June.

It prescribes fines for providing information about homosexuality to people under the age of 18 – ranging from 4,000 roubles (£78) for an individual to 1m roubles (£19,620) for organisations.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has warned athletes against making political gestures at the Winter Olympics, but plans to set up protest zones for them to “express their views”.

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova slammed the IOC for “putting their head in the sand” over LGBT rights last week.

Earlier this summer, in an interview with Jay Leno on NBC’s Tonight Show, President Obama was asked about the implementation of homophobic censorship laws in Russia.

President Obama replied saying he had “no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”