Sports and Equalities Minister Helen Grant has responded to criticism from Labour MP Chris Bryant that the UK should have included prominent gay figures in its delegation to the Winter Olympics in Russia.
Speaking at Wednesday’s Downing Street protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws, the Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform said: “I’m a bit embarrassed by our government on this, because to be honest, President Obama has shown the way.
“He’s sent as part of the American delegation not himself, but Billie Jean King – and tennis, incidentally, is not a Winter Olympic sport.
“I’m glad of course that Clare Balding is going to be going as part of the BBC team to comment on everything, that’s great – but why isn’t the British Government sending people who are lesbian and gay from this country?”
The MP suggested stars such as Olympic diver Tom Daley, former rugby player Gareth Thomas and Olympic boxer Nicola Adams could have been included in the UK’s delegation.
Helen Grant, the second most senior minister responsible for Sport at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and a junior Equalities minister, will be flying out to visit Team GB during the Games too.
In response to Mr Bryant’s comments, Mrs Grant told PinkNews.co.uk: “The delegation from Britain is a matter for the British Olympic Association and that would be a decision for them.
“But we have raised with the Russian Government our concerns about their laws that affect the LGB&T community.
“We are completely committed to protecting the rights of LGB&T people in this country and abroad and that human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people.”
Commenting on yesterday’s protest, a Downing Street spokesperson told PinkNews.co.uk: “We have strong concerns about the changes in Russian law prohibiting the promotion of ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ among minors. The law has the potential to prevent LGBT people from fully enjoying the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
“We do not support a boycott of the Games. As the Prime Minister has said, we have a better chance of influencing Russia by engaging and challenging prejudices than by boycotting. We regularly set out our concerns on human rights to the Russian Government, and will continue to do so.”
Lesbian former tennis champion Billie Jean King was due to attend the Sochi Games as part of the US delegation, but will now miss the opening ceremony as her mother is ill. She will be replaced by gay former hockey player Caitlin Cahow.