Two top Republican leaders disagree with each other regarding U.S. participation in the 2014 Olympics. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina announced that if Russia grants asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, then the United States should consider boycotting the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
In his statement to NBC News on Tuesday, he said that even though he loves the Olympics, he hates “what the Russian government is doing throughout the world.” He was referring, in part, to the possibility of Putin granting asylum to Eric Snowden, or anyone, who has “committed treason against the United States.”
Snowden has been stranded in the Moscow Airport for several weeks after the U.S. revoked his passport. He has offers from some South American countries for permanent asylum but applied for temporary asylum in Russia until he can get travel plans finalized.
It isn’t just the Snowden issue that is the basis for Graham’s suggested boycott. His reasoning includes Russia’s position on Iran’s nuclear program, Bashar Assad in Syria, and the threats made against Israel. He said the Winter Games will give Russia a world platform to promote its propaganda. By boycotting the Olympics, it would put pressure on Putin.
House Speaker John Boehner does not agree, and said Graham’s suggestion was “dead wrong.” He pointed out that U.S. athletes have been training for the Olympics for years and should not be penalized because “a traitor” is still waiting to find a country he can call home.
Graham stops short of comparing Russia to Nazi Germany, but adds that the “Russian government is empowering” evil people. He said that when the Olympics were held in Germany during the time of Adolf Hitler, the Nazis used the opportunity to promote their own propaganda. The International Olympic Committee had awarded the games to Berlin two years before Hitler came into power.
The only other time the U.S. boycotted the Olympics was in the summer of 1980. Those games were also held in Russia–when it was still the former Soviet Union. Moscow was the host city. The United States was protesting the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. President Jimmy Carter had issued an ultimatum on January, 20, 1980, saying the U.S. would boycott the Olympics if Soviet troops didn’t withdraw within one month.
West Germany, China, Argentina, Japan, the Philippines, and Canada joined in the U.S. boycott of the 1980 games. Other countries left it up to their athletes if they wanted to compete or not. At the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, 16 countries carried the Olympic flag instead of their national flag.
Ultimately, whether to boycott the 2014 games is a decision that has to be made by the U.S. Olympic Committee, not the U.S. government. As far as boycotting because of Eric Snowden, White House spokesman Jay Carney said he’s not going to speculate about that. “The Olympics are a long way off.” The Winter Games begin in Sochi on February 7, 2014.
Written by: Cynthia Collins, Guardian Correspondent