Faced with Winter Olympics in the snows of Russia, which lately has enacted abhorrently anti-gay laws, the Obama White House has made the perfect response.
The 1980 Moscow Games taught us that boycotts only punish the athletes, who have spent years — practically their whole lives in some cases — preparing to compete. Rather, Vladimir Putin’s Dark Ages legislation will be answered with the makeup of the official U.S. delegation to the games.
Not a single top administration official is included, even though one has attended every Olympics since 2000. The delegation will be led instead by tennis icon Billie Jean King, who will be joined by ice skating gold medalist Brian Boitano and two-time Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow. All are gay, articulate and — particularly in King’s case — not shy about speaking their minds.
President Obama didn’t say he chose the delegation as a slap at Russia. He didn’t have to. The members, he says, “will showcase to the world the best of America — diversity, determination and teamwork.”
Gay-rights advocates are elated. “There is no question that this is the grandest of snubs, to Putin and to Russia,” said Chad Griffin of Human Rights Campaign in an MSNBC interview. His group had urged Obama to include well-known gay athletes in the delegation.
The most prominent U.S. representative will be Janet Napolitano, Obama’s former secretary of homeland security and the president of the University of California.
We hope that she and the others representing the United States in Sochi will take every opportunity to condemn Russia’s laws, which bar same-sex couples from adopting and ban the “promotion” of homosexuality to children, whatever that means. Count on King to set the tone.
The Olympic Charter states clearly that “any form of discrimination … is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” But protesting even clear violations of that charter at the Games themselves is a challenge, since demonstrations are banned.
The International Olympic Committee will establish “protest zones” outside venues in Sochi, however, as it did in Beijing. And nothing should stop members of the White House delegation — or U.S. athletes in competition — from speaking loudly and clearly about how American values differ from Russia’s.
That’s the best way to show that the United States takes seriously the Olympic Charter and its promise to promote “a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”