Finland’s Minister for Sport and Culture Paavo Arhinmäki has announced he is boycotting the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics because of concerns over Russia’s human rights record.
Arhinmäki joins a growing list of international figures who will not be attending events in Sochi as the ramifications of Russia’s anti-gay legislation – which was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin last year – continue to mar the build-up to next month’s Winter Olympics.
“As a politician… one must not support violations of human rights, limitations in the freedom of speech or repressing of sexual minorities,” Arhinmäki told Finnish TV station YLE.
At the World Athletics Championships in Moscow last year, Arhinmäki showed his support for sexual minorities by waving a rainbow flag in protest at the anti-gay laws introduced by Russia.
They ban “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors, prevents gay couples from adopting children, outlaws gay pride rallies and proposes penalties for those who express these views online or in the news media.
Earlier this week, Arhinmäki’s counterpart in neighbouring Sweden, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, also announced she would not be attending the Opening Ceremony, while United States President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, German President Joachim Gauck, French leader François Hollande and the heads of Canada, Belgium, Lithuania, Moldova and Georgia have all indicated they will be missing from Sochi 2014.
However, last week Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and King Willem-Alexander announced they will be attending the Games, joining a small band of international figures who have indicated they will be present in Sochi including the leaders of Switzerland, Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania.
While British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to stay away, they will be represented in Sochi by members of their respective Governments including British Sports Minister Helen Grant and German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.
The official US delegation in Sochi will be led by openly gay athletes: former tennis player Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow, a two-time Olympic ice hockey medallist, and ex-Olympic skating champion Brian Boitano.
Meanwhile, Putin has offered his latest reassurance that homosexual athletes in Sochi will not be subjected to discrimination.
Speaking to Foreign Ambassadors at a ceremony in the Kremlin today, Putin reiterated all athletes will be treated equally.
“The Olympic Games will be held in full compliance with the Olympic charter, without any discrimination on any basis,” Putin said.
“Russia will be rooting for its own athletes of course, but we wish success to all the athletes.
“I am confident the Olympics will bring nations closer together and help strengthen friendship, trust and partnership around the world.”
Earlier this month, Putin revealed protest zones will be allowed during Sochi 2014 after initially declaring all political protests would be banned as part of a security crackdown.
Security fears for the Winter Olympics have also been ramped up following a series of terror attacks in recent weeks resulting in a number of deaths, including a double suicide bombing in Volgograd that left 34 people dead last month.
Russian authorities have since launched the biggest security operation in Olympic history, with more than 30,000 police and Interior Ministry troops being deployed along with the introduction of stiff measures to restrict vehicle access, and the sale of firearms, explosives and ammunition in the Sochi region.
This was republished with permission from Gary Anderson, of Inside the Games. Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.