LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron will not attend next month’s Winter Olympics in Russia, his spokesman said on Wednesday, adding his schedule meant it was not possible and that British leaders did not usually go to the event.
Cameron had been under pressure to boycott the Sochi games from some gay and human rights activists who thought his staying away would boost their campaign against what they call Russia’s draconian legislation on homosexuality.
But Cameron’s spokesman declined to comment when asked whether the decision to stay away was a snub directed at President Vladimir Putin, saying he was unsure whether Russia had even formally invited the British leader.
“The prime minister’s schedule means that he won’t be attending the Sochi games,” the spokesman told reporters, saying a delegation including Britain’s culture and sports ministers and Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth’s daughter, would be going.
“I‘m not familiar with the last time a UK prime minister attended a winter games,” the spokesman added.
Sources close to Cameron had previously told Reuters that a decision not to attend would not be politically motivated, although relations remain strained by issues including the 2006 London poisoning of former Russian intelligence operative Alexander Litvinenko.
Russia passed a law last year banning what it called the spread of homosexual propaganda among minors, angering rights activists around the world.
Senior government figures from Germany, France and the United States have already said they will not go to Sochi, without linking the decision to the issue of gay rights.
When asked whether the British delegation would raise concerns about the contested Russian law, Cameron’s spokesman said Britain discussed a “full range” of issues around human rights with countries like Russia and would continue to do so.
Stonewall, a lesbian, gay and bisexual campaign group, praised Cameron for what it said was his clear stance against Russia’s legislation on homosexuality. But it urged him to keep up the pressure.
“We hope that he and the British Government continue to raise their concerns not just whilst the world’s gaze is on Sochi, but in the months and years to come too,” said Stonewall’s Jasmine O‘Connor.
Britain had previously said it planned to send Culture Secretary Maria Miller to Sochi, the minister responsible for its recently passed same sex marriage laws, a choice welcomed by gay rights activists.
Putin attended the 2012 London Summer Olympics as a private spectator where he watched judo, a sport he excels in, with Cameron.
Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Andrew Roche