European Union Commissioner, German President To Boycott Sochi Olympics


European Union commissioner Viviane Reding said Tuesday that she would not attend the 2014 Winter Olympics, which open in Sochi, Russia in February, because of the country’s treatment of minorities including the LGBT community. It is unclear whether Reding, who chairs the EU’s committee for Justice, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights, was invited to the games as an official EU representative, but regardless, she won’t be present.

“I will certainly not go to Sochi as long as minorities are treated the way they are under the current Russian legislation,” Reding tweeted.

She joins German president Joachim Gauck in snubbing Sochi. Gauck said this week that he would not attend the Olympics, and though his office gave no specific reason, Russia’s human rights record and its new anti-gay law are prime suspects. Gauck has criticized Russia’s record on rights in the past and has offered support for LGBT equality around the world. He told the United Nations Human Rights Council last year that he was “encouraged” by “debates about equal rights for LGBT people in more and more countries worldwide.” He has also said that Germany, where civil partnerships are legal but same-sex marriage is not, needs to have “a proper discussion in our society about the next steps for equality.”

Whether Gauck had previously planned to attend is unknown. Though he attended the London Olympics in his capacity as president, he skipped the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Several world leaders, including President Obama, have voiced opposition to the Russian law, though Gauck and Reding are the first to say they would avoid Russia because of it. Obama’s plans for Sochi aren’t known. He attended neither the Vancouver nor London games; instead, Vice President Joe Biden represented the U.S. in Vancouver while First Lady Michelle Obama and the Obamas’ daughters led the American delegation to London.

Some LGBT activists have called for an outright boycott of the Sochi games, though that has been a controversial topic since it would also punish athletes, many of whom have spoken out against the law, by preventing them from competing (both Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel have vocally opposed a boycott). Boycotts from world leaders who support broad LGBT and human rights, however, could be a powerful way to show support for LGBT rights and LGBT athletes without preventing other athletes from competing too.