• Winter Olympics

Billie Jean King will not be in Sochi

February 5, 2014
Billie Jean King was chosen in December © Getty Images

Billie Jean King, tabbed by President Barack Obama to lead the official US presidential delegation to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, will not attend because her mother is ill.

"With my mother in failing health, I will not be able to join the US presidential delegation at this week's opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics," King said in a statement released by her press agent.

"It is important for me to be with my mother and my brother at this difficult time. I want to thank president Obama for including me in this historic mission, and I look forward to supporting our athletes as they compete in Sochi."

King was chosen in December to help lead the US delegation to the Sochi Games. At the time, she said it took her "about 10 seconds" to agree.

"It sends a strong message that America is very diverse," said King, who is openly gay. "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."

Among the others in the delegation are two openly gay former Olympic athletes - figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow. In June, Russia passed a law banning gay "propaganda" to minors.

King had planned to walk in the opening ceremony, attend ice hockey and figure skating events and meet US athletes during her three-day visit to the Games. The former tennis star said when she was chosen that she would like sexual orientation added to the list of protections in the IOC charter.

"Maybe we'll help the LGBT community in Russia. I hope there will be a connection for them and help them not feel alone and disenfranchised," King said. "Personally, I hope it helps the movement take another step forward so people will realise we're just like everybody else. It should be a non-issue. It's just like people of colour in our country and other places. It has to be a non-issue."

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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