Opinion

December 20, 2013

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Excerpted from the Bloomberg View: Vladimir Putin’s Olympics, like many of his policies, seem designed to annoy the West. For the Olympics at least, President Barack Obama has come up with a brilliant response to his Russian counterpart. Her name is Billie Jean King. Some background: The anti-gay law Russia adopted after winning the right to host the Winter Olympics, which begin in February, clearly violates protections against discrimination enshrined in the Games’ charter. The spineless response of the International Olympic Committee was to claim that a law that prohibits “propaganda” in support of gay relationships is not, in fact, discriminatory. Olympic boycotts, meanwhile, have been singularly ineffective at just about everything except hurting the athletes. What to do? This week the White House announced that neither Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden nor any member of the presidential Cabinet will attend the Games. In their place will be King and Caitlin Cahow, both accomplished athletes who also happen to be gay. King, 70, who won 39 Grand Slam titles during her tennis career and coached the U.S. women’s teams to Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2000, was the first major female athlete to come out in 1981. Cahow, 28, is a two-time Olympic medalist in women’s ice hockey. Their presence on the delegation, which also includes former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and presidential adviser Rob Nabors, recognizes that the Olympics are about sports – but about politics, too. If they weren’t, countries wouldn’t compete for the right to pay billions of dollars to host the games. These gestures are first of all important for the countries making them, which like to think they are being consistent about standing up for universal values (even if their own societies only rather recently saw the light on gay rights). They are also important in letting gay men and lesbians inside Russia know they have international support.

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