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Olympians urge Merkel to attend Sochi 2014

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Olympians urge Merkel to attend Sochi 2014
Olympic discus champion Robert Harting has attacked President Gauck's decision to avoid Sochi 2014. Photo: EPA/KERIM OKTEN
10:47 CET+01:00
German sports stars have called on Chancellor Angela Merkel to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi after President Joachim Gauck said he would avoid the event.

"If Gauck isn't coming, Chancellor Merkel must. It's a measure of regard for the athletes," Olympic discus champion Robert Harting told Bild newspaper. "Politicians often like to use the sporting arena for their own interests. So, turning that around, they should do something for us."

Harting, who was named German sportsman of the year on Sunday night, used the ceremony to attack Gauck’s decision saying it sent the wrong signal. “When Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the training camp of the national football team, it has strong symbolism. It is an important event for the people. And when Joachim Gauck doesn’t come, that is also a sign.”

The 29-year-old’s comments were echoed by other sports stars.

Fellow Olympian Britta Heidemann, who won a silver medal for fencing at London 2012, said: "We know from the history of the Olympic Games that boycotts do not achieve anything on a political level. International understanding can only be achieved when politicians seek out direct negotiations."

Gymnast Fabian Hambüchen agreed. "The presence of politicians like Angela Merkel is recognition of our achievements. I think we've earned that,” he said.

German president Joachim Gauck announced earlier this month that he would not be going to Russia for the games. Though he did not explicitly state his reasons, it is widely believed the move is in protest against human rights abuses in Russia – and in particular a law banning "pro-homosexual propaganda."

Despite his decision not to attend the event, Gauck has reportedly been planning a visit to Russia for months. "Gauck would like to use his first visit to Russia to address a number of issues in a respectful manner," SPD foreign policy spokesman, Rolf Mützenich told news magazine Focus, adding, "Such a thing isn't possible in Sochi."  

German media reports claimed Merkel was annoyed not to have been told of Gauck's intention in advance. The chancellor's spokesperson said: "The president's decision has been noted and will not be commented upon."

Meanwhile, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio on Sunday that neither he nor President Francois Hollande would be at the event.

With her closest neighbours choosing to stay home and her president making a stance, speculation is rife over whether or not the German chancellor will travel to the games which start on February 7th 2014.

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