US Olympic Committee officials rejected a political call Wednesday for American athletes to boycott the 2014 Sochi Winter Games if Russia grants asylum to Edward Snowden.
Americans boycotted the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics in the wake of the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan, but USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky made it clear that painful lessons were learned from that move and a subsequent Soviet boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
“If there are any lessons to be learned from the American boycott of 1980, it is that Olympic boycotts do not work,” Sandusky said.
“Our boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games did not contribute to a successful resolution of the underlying conflict.
“It did, however, deprive hundreds of American athletes, all of 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.
“While we acknowledge the seriousness of the issues at hand, we strongly oppose the notion that a boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is in our country’s best interests.”
US Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC, the US Olympic telecaster, that he thought the United States should consider a boycott of next February’s Sochi Winter Olympics if Russia were to grant Snowden asylum.
Snowden revealed classified documents on US government surveillance programs and has been stranded in a Moscow airport for weeks after his US passport was revoked.
“I love the Olympics, but I hate what the Russian government is doing throughout the world,” Graham told NBC News.
“If they give asylum to a person who I believe has committed treason against the United States, that’s taking it to a new level.”
Graham also compared the Russian hosting of the Winter Olympics in Sochi to Nazi Germany’s hosting of the 1936 Summer Olympics.
“If you could go back in time, would you have allowed Adolf Hitler to host the Olympics in Germany? To have the propaganda coup of inviting the world into Nazi Germany and putting on a false front?” Graham said.
“I’m not saying that Russia is Nazi Germany, but I am saying that the Russian government is empowering some of the most evil, hateful people in the world.
“What I’m trying to do is let the Russians know enough is enough. How much more are we going to let them get away with before we make it real to them?”
US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner dismissed the idea by his fellow Republican lawmaker, calling it “dead wrong.”
“Why would we want to punish US athletes who’ve been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can’t find a place to call home?” Boehner said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney would not address the notion of a US boycott of Sochi, saying, “I’m not going to engage in speculation about that and the Olympics are a long way off.”
Asked if US President Barack Obama thought a boycott was a bad idea, Carney said, “A lawmaker put it out there. We’re not even focused on that… It’s not one (idea) that is an issue right now because we’re engaged with the Russians and other governments in helping bring about a positive resolution to this matter.”