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Presidential delegations to Olympics and Paralympics do not normally make much news. They are usually thought of as diplomatic niceties with a dollop of junket on top.
This year is different. The USA will not send a presidential delegation to the Paralympic Winter Games that begin Friday in Sochi, a reaction to host Russia's military action in nearby Ukraine. That decision comes on the heels of a presidential delegation to the Winter Olympics last month that included three openly gay former athletes, a direct shot at Russia's anti-gay legislation that was a flashpoint for controversy before and during the Games.
"In addition to other measures we are taking in response to the situation in Ukraine, the United States will no longer send a Presidential Delegation to the upcoming Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement Monday. "President Obama continues to strongly support all of the U.S. athletes who will participate in the Paralympics and wishes them great success."
The Games run through March16 in the same areas as last month's Winter Olympics.
Patrick Sandusky, chief communications and public affairs officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said in a statement: "We encourage all Americans to support our athletes by watching them compete on NBC, NBCSN and on TeamUSA.Org. As a sports organization, we will continue to fully support the amazing men and women that comprise Team USA at the Paralympic Winter Games."
The delegation, which was announced Feb.7, was to be led by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. Other members: Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor; Celeste A. Wallander, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, Russia and Central Asia, National Security Council Staff; Anthony Robles, member of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition; Sandra Dukat, U.S. three-time Paralympian bronze medalist; and Brian Mosteller, Director, Oval Office Operations, The White House.
The delegation to last month's Winter Games in Sochi did not include a president, first lady or vice president, all of whom headed the previous four Olympic delegations, or a cabinet secretary, only a former one. Obama selected three openly gay former athletes -- tennis player Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow -- as part of that party.
Contributing: Aamer Madhani