German President Joachim Gauck is boycotting the Winter Olympics and will not travel to Russia next year.
Der Spiegel suggests it’s because of Russia’s anti-gay laws. Presidential spokeswoman Ferdos Forudastan confirmed Mr Gauck would not be attending the 2014 Games but the specific reasons have not been revealed.
Mr Gauck, an outspoken critic of Russia’s human-rights record, is yet to visit the country since taking office in March 2012. A planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2012 fell through, apparently for scheduling reasons.
According to Queer.de, in the past, Mr Gauck has spoken out several times – albeit cautiously – in support of LGBT rights. In February, he told the UN Human Rights Council: “I am encouraged by the social debates that are taking place at the moment in India and in other states that are extending women’s rights, and by the debates about equal rights for LGBT people in more and more countries worldwide.”
Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court declared that the tax system must treat civil partnerships equally with marriages in May. Mr Gauck welcomed the ruling and said: “There must be a proper discussion in our society about the next steps for equality: and that means giving due consideration to the words of those who want more equality, and of those who do not desire this outcome.”
He travelled to the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in London last year.
Sources close to Mr Gauck note that it is not unknown for a Germany President to avoid attending the Winter Olympics. Horst Köhler failed to attend the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.
Despite the many calls for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russian LGBT groups have recommended that athletes should attend and demonstrate their opposition locally to the oppression of LGBT Russians instead. The Conservative German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has also spoken out against a boycott that she believes would have the primary effect of punishing the athletes.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Mr Gauck’s motives for not attending the Winter Olympics, the Green Party politician Claudia Roth has described the President’s decision as “an encouraging signal,” and the German Government’s Human Rights Spokesperson, Markus Löning, has called it “a wonderful gesture of support for all Russian citizens who support freedom of speech, democracy and civil rights.”
In a fresh attempt to dismiss concerns about LGBT athletes attending February’s Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, President Putin last month declared he was against “hatred” towards people of a “non-traditional sexual orientation” – whilst continuing to support the country’s homophobic legislation.