WHAT OTHERS SAY: Obama makes bold but correct statement with U.S. Olympic delegation

Wednesday, January 1, 2014 | 3:12 p.m. CST

Ideally, the Olympic Games engender a spirit of good feeling. Ideally, the Olympics bring people of different nations and beliefs together for honest athletic competition that is free of political influence or intrigue.

That is the ideal. History has shown that the Olympics have fallen short of that ideal.

There was the Summer Games of 1936 in Berlin, where Hitler intended to use the Olympics to showcase the superiority of the Aryan race; American track athlete Jesse Owens put a dent in those plans.

There was the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches in Munich in 1972. Eight years later, the U.S. led a 65-nation boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow because of the Soviet Union's military invasion of Afghanistan (of all places).

On Feb. 7, the Winter Olympic Games will open in Russia, which in the past year has stepped-up its anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) position as a matter of national policy. Free-speech activities, such as writing about LGBT issues (lest a minor see it) or staging gay-pride rallies are outlawed.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 — conviction used to bring prison terms of up to five years — but the government's official hard line against gays has only emboldened perpetrators of murders and assaults on gays and those suspected of being gay.

Regarding the Olympics, the sports minister of Russia, Vitaly Mutko said that all athletes' rights would be respected — but also that athletes must respect Russian law. "An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn't banned from coming to Sochi, but if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable."

Anyway, though some nations are considering boycotting the Games in Sochi, most countries are planning to compete — but many will make their opinions known concerning Russia's crackdown on human rights.

In the U.S., President Obama is signaling his disdain for recent events in Russia (likely also including the Vladimir Putin administration's harboring Edward Snowden) through diplomatic means — namely the composition of the official U.S. delegation to Sochi.

The president won't attend the games. The first lady won't go. No ex-president has been asked to represent us. Neither will Vice President Joe Biden, who headed the U.S. delegation at the Winter Games in Vancouver four years ago. In fact, the president is not sending any senior government officials.

However, he is sending two well-known LGBT athletes, tennis legend Billie Jean King and figure skater Brian Boitano, to represent our country at the opening ceremonies. Hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who is openly gay, will also attend competitions.

Take that, Russia.

Perhaps it is only coincidental, but in the face of international criticism in the run-up to the Olympics, the Russian parliament approved amnesty for thousands of political dissidents, including many who had the temerity to say discouraging words about Putin.

As Russia tries to clean up its image before rolling out the welcome mat in Sochi, the political maneuvering before the Olympics might be more interesting than the Games themselves.

In any case, President Obama scored early points with his Sochi roster.

Copyright The Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph Herald. Distributed by the Associated Press.

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