The White House announced Tuesday that President Barack Obama will not attend the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, in February.
For the first time since 2000, neither the US president, vice president, first lady or a former president will be attending the Games.
Instead, Obama will send a delegation of athletes, two of whom are openly gay – tennis great Billie Jean King and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow.
The Associated Press calls the move “a clear message” to Russia that the U.S. disapproves of its antigay laws.
The White House said Obama’s schedule would not allow the president to attend the two-week Games, but did not stipulate what he was doing instead.
He “looks forward to cheering them on from Washington,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in a statement.
The delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States,” Inouye said. “All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports.”
In August, the president said he would not support a boycott of the Games, as the US did in 1980 over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when Moscow hosted the summer Games. Instead, he said, winning medals would “go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there. And if Russia doesn’t have gay or lesbian athletes, then it probably makes their team weaker.”
“We’ve got a bunch of Americans out there who are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed,” he said. “Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia.”
Former secretary of homeland security Janet Napolitano will head the U.S. delegation at the opening ceremonies.