President Joachim Gauck

Germany’s President Joachim Gauck

Germany’s president has become the first national leader to boycott Russia’s controversial Winter Olympic Games.

According to Der Spiegel, President Joachim Gauck informed Russia last week of his decision not to attend the Games in Sochi next year.

The Guardian said that Gauck’s boycott is believed to be in response to Russia’s deteriorating human rights environment, including the passing of the reviled “gay propaganda” law.

Gauck’s offices confirmed the news but declined to officially describe his decision as a boycott. Gauck has been a consistent critic of Kremlin policies since coming into office in March 2012.

The 73-year-old former Lutheran pastor has slammed the country’s “deficit of rule of law” and its “air of imperialism”.

LGBT rights activists have been split on the issue of boycotting the Games. While some, primarily in the West, have called for a boycott, others believe that the event can instead be used to highlight human rights abuses.

Russia has insisted that LGBT people will not be discriminated against in Sochi but questions remain as to the exact mechanics of how LGBT athletes and supporters will be treated at the Games.

For example, can supporters hold or wear rainbow flags or colours and what will happen to same-sex couples who show public affection during the event?

The Russian authorities have, however, refused to allow a gay Pride House – a safe space for LGBT athletes and visitors to meet – to be hosted at the Games. The first Pride House was launched during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada, and one was also hosted at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

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