German president Joachim Gauck boycotting Sochi Olympics

German President Joachim Gauck gives a speech during a meeting of the Central Council of Jews in Germany on November 24, 2013 in Berlin. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images). AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

BERLIN – German President Joachim Gauck is boycotting the Winter Olympics and will not travel to Sochi, Russia next year.

Gauck took the decision to protest human rights violations and the harassment of Russian opposition political figures, Der Spiegel reported Sunday. The magazine said the Russian government was informed of his decision last week.

Presidential spokeswoman Ferdos Forudastan confirmed the move to the dpa news agency on Sunday. Gauck’s office could not immediately be reached for further confirmation.

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Forudastan told dpa that there was no set rule saying German presidents had to travel. Former president Horst Koehler did not travel to Vancouver for the Winter Games in 2010.

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The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) said on its website that Gauck had not been planning to visit to Sochi “according to our knowledge.”

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DOSB director general Michael Vesper told dpa that “(someone) who doesn’t travel doesn’t automatically boycott something. It’s certainly not directed against the German team.”

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.

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Gauck travelled to the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in London last year.

Alexei Pushkov, the Kremlin-connected head of the Russian parliament’s lower house, quickly responded to the perceived slight on Twitter: “Gauck never condemned the killing of children and women in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But he denounces Russia (so strongly) he would not go to Sochi.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke against boycotting the games in Sochi last August, in response to Russia’s new law banning alleged gay propaganda. The chancellery said the games in February would focus attention on such issues, and that athletes would be most affected by a boycott.

Arrangements for Merkel’s attendance at Sochi have not yet been made.

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