The White House says the U.S. delegation being sent to the Sochi Olympics represents the diversity of the United States.
Spokesman Jay Carney said on December 18 that the makeup of the delegation was not meant as a hidden message about Russia's treatment of gays. He maintained that Obama has been upfront in his opinions on that issue.
"We have been very clear -- the president has been very clear that he finds it offensive, the anti-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) legislation in Russia, for example. And we take very clear and strong stands on that issue, as well as the curtailment of civil society in Russia, as well as the harassment caused to those who protest corruption in Russia. And these -- you know, the issues we have with Russia, that we are very upfront about," Carney said.
The delegation will include former tennis star Billie Jean King, and another openly gay athlete -- -- women's ice hockey silver medalist Caitlin Cahow.
The delegation, however, will not include a president, vice president, or a first lady, something that has not happened since 2000.
U.S. President Barack Obama will join the presidents of France and Germany in staying away from Sochi next February.
On December 18, the president of Moldova joined the list of heads of state who won’t travel to Russia for the games.
A spokesman said President Nicolae Timofti would not be attending the games because of Russia's poor human rights record and the Kremlin's treatment of the political opposition.
President Vladimir Putin has invested much money and time to make the Sochi Olympics a showcase for Russia.
However, his government has come under growing international criticism for its poor human rights record and a law banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also come under fire for awarding the games to Russia.
Earlier this month, IOC President Thomas Bach said Russia would set up public protest zones in Sochi for "people who want to express their opinion or want to demonstrate for or against something."
Bach had previously said he'd received assurances from Putin that gays will not be discriminated against in Sochi.
With reporting by AP and Reuters