When the 2014 Winter Paralympics open in Sochi, Russia on Friday, top officials from the United Kingdom won’t be there.
The Paralympics traditionally follow the Olympics in the same host city, and like the Olympics are commonly attended by official delegations from participating countries. But British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Sunday on Twitter that the United Kingdom’s official delegation would boycott the Paralympics to protest Russia’s military involvement in the Crimean region of Ukraine:
Because of the serious situation in Ukraine, @WilliamJHague & I believe it would be wrong for UK Ministers to attend the Sochi Paralympics.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) March 2, 2014
Hague is the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary. Prince Edward, the patron of the British Paralympic Association, has also canceled his planned three-day trip to Sochi for the Games on advice of the government.
British athletes will compete at the Paralympics despite Cameron’s boycott, and there is no widespread boycott action expected from any other country or group of athletes. “All the countries are happy to come here,” International Paralympic Committee spokesperson Craig Spence told the BBC, adding that 575 athletes from 39 countries would be in attendance for the opening ceremonies Friday.
The IPC is “monitoring what’s going on and all the countries have been in touch,” Spence said.
Though Cameron didn’t reference it, Russia’s actions in Ukraine could be in violation of the Olympic Truce, which the United Nations adopts to ask participating countries to cease fighting during the Olympics and Paralympics. That doesn’t always happen — as the Associated Press noted, Russia and Georgia continued fighting during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and the United States and its allies (including Canada, host of the 2010 Olympics) haven’t ceased war operations in Afghanistan or Iraq during previous Olympics. The IPC did, however, call for adherence to the Truce in a statement to the AP.
“As with situations around the world, we hope a peaceful resolution can be found in the spirit of the Olympic Truce, which has covered the Paralympic Games since 2006,” it said in the statement.
The UK boycott over Russia’s Ukrainian involvement comes on the heels of Cameron’s “snub” of the Sochi Games, when the previous Olympic host (London 2012) sent a low-level cabinet member instead. German president Joachim Gauck also publicly announced that he wouldn’t go to Sochi for the Olympics, and though he gave no specific reason, he has long criticized Russia’s human rights record and supported LGBT equality around the world. President Obama’ official Olympic delegation included multiple openly gay athletes in what was seen as a challenge to the Russian laws.
No other countries have hinted at using the Paralympics to challenge Russia on Ukraine, though its anti-gay laws were again a focus of protests. Norway’s official representative at the Paralympics, health minister Bent Hoeie, said in February that he would attend the Games with his husband to protest Russia’s anti-LGBT laws. The international Federation of Gay Games has also challenged the International Paralympic Committee to show its public support for LGBT rights in the country during the Russian Open Games, which ended Sunday after being marked by harassment from Russian officials and cancellations at different venues.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who lost both legs while serving for the U.S. Army in Iraq, will lead the official American delegation to Sochi’s Paralympics. The United States has not announced any change in plans for the Games regarding its delegation, and a spokesperson from the U.S. Olympic Committee told The Guardian that “nothing has changed in our planning” for athletes’ attendance either.
CNN’s Jake Tapper reports that the White House will no longer send an official delegation to Sochi:
WH: United States will no longer send a Presidential Delegation to the upcoming Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 3, 2014