France has rejected allegations that President Francois Hollande is snubbing the Sochi Olympics, saying its sports minister will attend the event “as is common practice” for the Winter Games.
In a radio interview on Sunday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said neither he nor Hollande had any plans to go the opening ceremony, sparking speculation of a boycott over Russia’s rights record.
But on Wednesday, the foreign ministry said Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron would attend the February 7-23 event.
“The quality of the ties between French authorities and their Russian counterparts would not justify the absence of France in any way,” it said in a statement.
It noted that Hollande’s predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac had not attended the Winter Games in Nagano, Salt Lake City, Turin or Vancouver either.
“Any controversy on the issue is therefore unfounded.”
Rights groups have criticised Russia for the way workers building sporting venues in Sochi have been treated, and for its anti-gay legislation.
It has faced a widespread internet campaign, and calls from celebrities and rights groups for protests at Sochi over its law banning “gay propaganda”, which critics say can be used for a broad crackdown on homosexuals.
German President Joachim Gauck has also announced he will not attend the Games, in what has widely been seen as a snub over rights although he has denied this.
And last week, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding tweeted on her official account that she would “certainly not go to Sochi as long as minorities are treated the way they are under the current Russian legislation”.
The French foreign ministry said the issue would “obviously” not be avoided at the Games, but said the event “must above all be a major sporting celebration”.