MOSCOW, December 24 (R-Sport) – The decisions by US President Barack Obama and several other world leaders not to attend February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi do not represent a boycott and will have no bearing on the Games, leading Russian politician and sports official Alexander Zhukov said Tuesday.
Obama and French President Francois Hollande have both declined to attend, while German President Joachim Gauck is reportedly staying away in protest at alleged human rights violations in Russia. Chancellor Angela Merkel, the head of the German government, may also skip Sochi.
“The point is the competition and not that 20 or 30 leaders come to the opening ceremony,” said Russian Olympic Committee head Zhukov, who is a former Deputy Prime Minister and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
“Obama can’t come? Well, he hasn’t been to a single Games during his time in the presidency. It doesn’t reflect on the quality of the Games in any way.”
“Regarding a boycott, I haven’t heard a single announcement about that. No-one’s discussing that seriously, neither at the IOC [International Olympic Committee], nor at government level.”
Zhukov’s comments are the first time a senior Russian official has addressed the issue.
The US presidential delegation was announced last week and includes two openly gay athletes, former tennis champion Billie Jean King and hockey player Caitlin Cahow, in what has been widely seen as a protest against Russian laws banning “propaganda” promoting homosexuality to minors.
The Sochi Games run from February 7 through 23 and will be the first Olympics to be held in Russia since Moscow 1980, which the US boycotted.