SOCHI, Russia, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- The head of the Russian Olympic Committee downplayed a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama not to attend the Sochi Games, denying there is a "boycott."
Alexander Zhukov, the head of the Russian Olympic organization, a former deputy prime minister and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin said Obama's decision to stay away from the event will have no bearing on the Games' success. Zhukov noted Obama has not attended any other Olympics during his presidency, the Russian sports news agency R-sport reported Tuesday.
"The point is the competition and not that 20 or 30 leaders come to the opening ceremony," Zhukov said. "Obama can't come? Well, he hasn't been to a single Games during his time in the presidency. It doesn't reflect on the quality of the Games in any way. Regarding a boycott, I haven't heard a single announcement about that. No one's discussing that seriously, neither at the IOC [International Olympic Committee], nor at government level."
In addition to Obama's official declination, French President Francois Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck have said they will not attend. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has hinted she will also stay away.
International leaders have expressed their displeasure with Russia's treatment of gays and other human rights issues. The official U.S. delegation includes two openly gay athletes, tennis player Billie Jean King and women's hockey player Caitlin Cahow. King's presence as a non-athlete member of the delegation in particular has been seen as a protest measure by the United States against Russia's recently enacted anti-gay "propaganda" laws that prohibit gays from living openly in Russian society.