Olympics: Billie Jean King withdraws from US delegation

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Openly gay tennis legend Billie Jean King has withdrawn from the US presidential delegation to the Winter Olympics in Russia, citing the ill-health of her mother, officials said Wednesday, Feb 05, 2014.

The inclusion of King in the opening ceremony delegation selected by the White House raised eyebrows when it was announced last December amid ongoing controversy over Russia's anti-gay laws.

"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.

"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."

A White House spokesman said King's place at the opening ceremony delegation would instead be taken by former US hockey star Caitlin Cahow, who is also openly gay. Cahow had initially been due to participate in the delegation for the closing ceremony.

"The President extends his thoughts and prayers to Miss King and her family in this difficult time," spokesman Shin Inouye said.

King's selection in the US delegation had been seen as symbolic move by the White House as controversy raged over a Russian law passed in June last year banning gay "propaganda" to minors.

The 70-year-old former multi-Grand Slam-winning champion has long championed equality for gays and lesbians.

This year's Winter Games are the first Olympics since 2000 in which the US delegation has not featured a US President, Vice-President or First Lady.

It comes against a backdrop of strained relations between Russia and the United States on various foreign policy issues, including Syria and US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.