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Russia 'not really concerned' about Obama's absence from Sochi Olympics

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The Olympic rings are on display in front of a newly-built railway station "Adler" in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Dec. 24, 2013.

MOSCOW -- The organizing committee for Russia’s Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics said Thursday it was "not really concerned" that President Barack Obama would not be attending the event.

Sochi will be the first games since 2000 not attended by a U.S. president, first lady, or vice president. Obama said his decision not to go was due to a busy schedule in Washington, but it has come against a backdrop of increased tensions with Moscow.

Asked if Obama's decision to stay away was a concern, Head of Russian Olympic Committee Alexander Zhukov told NBC News: "The Olympic Games are the competition of outstanding sportsmen and this is the main reason why they are interesting.

"It's not a summit, which only the country leaders attend. So we’re not really concerned about it."

The U.S. and Russia have clashed over several issues in recent months, including the Syrian civil war and Moscow’s decision to grant asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

But it is Russia banning"homosexual propaganda" that has prompted many Western celebrities and rights groups to call for a boycott of the Sochi Games.

The Russian Olympic committee unveils the various different uniforms for the 2014 Sochi games.

In an August interview, Obama said he had "no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them." 

French President Francois Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck are also staying away from the games. And European Union Commissioner Viviane Reding said: "I will certainly not go to Sochi as long as minorities are treated the way they are under the current Russian legislation," Reuters reported.

The U.S. delegation to the games contains openly gay athletes, including figure skater Brian Boitano, tennis legend Billie Jean King and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow -- a move Obama said shows that the U.S. does not make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation.

To this, Zhukov said: "Who the members of the delegation are, is the business of the country that sends them [to the Olympics].

"The Americans or the Germans include people who they think are necessary [for their delegations]. I guess this is how they see the faces of their country."

He added that the games were "incompatible with politics."

"I can say that we expect sportsmen from all over the world and I have never heard any serious statements about the boycott from any politicians or the members of the Olympic Committee," he said.

Many have interpreted Russia's pardoning of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the remaining members of punk band Pussy Riot, and expected release of 30 Greenpeace activists detained since September as an attempt to soothe criticism in the run-up to the Sochi Games.