Top French officials including President Francois Hollande will not be attending the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
The decision, announced by France’s foreign minister on Sunday, fueled speculation that Russian anti-gay laws could cause severe damage to the success of next year’s Olympics, now less than two months away.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave no reason for the snub, saying only to Europe 1 radio: “I wish the Games the biggest success, but it is not planned for the chief French authorities to attend.”
The move comes exactly one week after German President Joachim Guack announced he would not be attending the Olympics, also without giving clear explanation. Guack’s office told CNN the president “simply decided not to go,” but a German publication, Der Spiegel, reported that the decision came out of protest to human rights violations and the harassment of Kremlin opposition leaders.
Over the summer, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a series of restrictions on LGBT expression, including one measure that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” The legislation carries fines and administrative arrests for any transgressor, though the law does not make clear what qualifies as gay “propaganda.” Worldwide protests and calls for boycotting the Olympics have sounded out of concern for the safety of thousands planning to travel to the Games, beginning on Feb. 7.
President Obama has condemned the Russian law, but LGBT advocates are pushing for stronger action. In a recent letter to senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Human Rights First urged the president to include prominent LGBT athletes and government officials in the U.S. delegation. Such a move would “carry a message of tolerance and respect for individual rights and human dignity,” the letter read.