If it were up to one U.S. senator, the U.S. Olympic team won’t be going for the bronze, silver, or gold in the Winter Olympic Games in Russia in 2014.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday that the U.S. should send a clear message to Russia by boycotting the Olympic Games in Sochi next February if the country grants asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who is currently cooped up in a Moscow airport.
“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham told The Hill when asked Tuesday whether the U.S. should not participate in the Games.
“It might help, because what they’re doing is outrageous,” Graham said. “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”
But other lawmakers on Capitol Hill aren’t convinced Graham’s proposal is the best approach to deal with Russia and argue it would be unfair to the U.S. athletes.
“I love Senator Graham. We’ve been close friends for close to 20 years. And I think he’s dead wrong,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said in a news conference Wednesday. “Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can’t find a place to call home?”
“I don’t know whether we should go that far,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said on MSNBC Wednesday. “If they grant asylum or help Snowden, there ought to be repercussions. I can’t say what they will be. I’d have to study Lindsey’s suggestion, but I share his exasperation with Putin.”
The chance that the U.S. would refrain from participating in the games is highly unlikely, but it has happened before. President Jimmy Carter led more than 50 nations in a boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union backed out of the summer Games in Los Angeles in retaliation.
The U.S. Olympic Committee rejected Graham’s suggestion on Wednesday.
“If there are any lessons to be learned from the American boycott of 1980, it is that Olympic boycotts do not work. Our boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games did not contribute to a successful resolution of the underlying conflict,” the Committee said in a statement. “It did, however, deprive hundreds of American athletes, all whom had completely dedicated themselves to representing our nation at the Olympic Games, of the opportunity of a lifetime. It also deprived millions of Americans of the opportunity to take pride in the achievements of our athletes, and in their dedication and commitment, at a time when we needed it most.”
Several Russian lawmakers have also criticized Graham’s boycott suggestion. Aleksey Pushkov, who serves in Russia’s lower house of parliament told Russian news channel RT that Graham’s statement was “pulling us back to the distant past, the time of mutual boycotts when our two states were looking at each other through nuclear sights.”
“I am sure that these times are over and difficult periods in relations must not bring the nations to the worst times of the Cold War,” he added.
“I hope that certain politicians in the United States would stop making populist statements and start thinking more about their own citizens,” Vasily Shestakov, who sits on Russia’s lower house of parliament’s Committee for Sports, said.