Billie Jean King Part of US Diversity Diplomacy for Sochi Olympics

As it turns out, the United States diversity diplomacy representative to Russia’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics will not be the President, the Vice-President, or the First Lady, but an athlete instead. It will be none other than the most outspoken gay athlete in American history, former international tennis champion, Billie Jean King. Being no stranger to discrimination, she didn’t think twice when being asked if she’d like to join the U.S. delegation for the Sochi Olympics.

King will help lead the delegation in the opening ceremony Feb. 7th at the Sochi Games, which have been overshadowed by Russia’s recent passage of an anti-gay law, which has garnered calls for boycotting the olympics and has exposed Russia to criticism of intolerance from human rights groups. “It took about 10 seconds,” King told The Associated Press on Wednesday about deciding to go to Sochi. “It sends a strong message that America is very diverse. We are here, and surrogates as athletes and gay athletes. We reflect part of America. Maybe we’ll be a voice for people who don’t feel they can be a voice yet.”

She’ll be joined on the delegation by two other openly gay former olympians – figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow. King stated that she’ll walk in the opening ceremony, meet with U.S. athletes, and see hockey and ice-skating during her 3-day stay at the games. The former tennis start also stated that she would like sexual orientation added to the list of protections outlined in the IOC charter.

“I’m all excited about meeting different athletes and watching them do what they do,” King told the AP in an exclusive phone interview from her home in New York. “The Olympics is foremost about the athletes coming together, and they have worked so hard for this moment to be representing their country and competing. That’s the essence of what it’s about.”

There’s the possibility of consequences if an athlete wears a rainbow pin or carries a rainbow flag in Sochi. Under Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” That eliminates the possibility of any flags flying or rainbow pins being worn, as the athletes can possibly be sent home or have their medals stripped.

President Obama has been openly critical of the Russian anti-gay law and President Putin’s “cold-war attitude” on many other issues. For the first time since 2000, the delegation will not include a President, Vice-President, former President, or First Lady.