Can the Games Begin? :: Snubbed by World Leaders
Editor’s note: This is the second in a four part series about the 2014 Sochi Olympics. This feature can be read in full in EDGE’s iPad magazine.
President Barack Obama, no great friend to Russian Premier Vladimir Putin (well, actually they loathe each other), sent a clear and direct signal about exactly what he thinks of the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi when he assigned the U.S. Delegation to several out and newly out athlete-celebrities.
LGBT and human-rights activists hailed the act of defiance, as the Russian media did a slow boil. Unfortunately, Billie Jean King, the tennis legend and late-in-life out-lesbian, diluted the message in early January that athletes should not be there to protest. "Maybe," she said, "we’ll help the LGBT community in Russia," but added, "It should be a non-issue." King further inflamed activists when she noted that "the Russian people have always been so wonderful to me, personally."
We’ll see. Like the heads of nearly every major Western democracy, Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated he will not be attending the Games. Instead, in mid-January, Britain sent a clear message when its Conservative government opted to send the minister responsible for seeing the passage of same-sex marriage in England and Wales, to Sochi. The head of Stonewall, Britain’s major LGBT rights group, praised Culture Secretary Maria Miller as a "staunch champion of gay equality."
The Russian government, in typical fashion, sought to play down the de facto boycott by U.S. and European leaders. The high-profile absences "will in no way affect the Olympic Games or alter their significance," the Russian Olympic Committee chief told the official news agency. The very fact that he was forced to respond, however, shows how much Putin is indeed feeling slighted.