A prominent United States senator says the US should consider boycotting the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi if Russia grants asylum to fugitive former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
“I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, told The Hill newspaper.
Graham said allowing Russia to host the Olympics after granting asylum for Snowden would be parallel to allowing Germany to host the Olympics before World War II.
“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 told NBC News.
“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,” he added.
Snowden is a former contract worker for the National Security Agency (NSA) and a one-time employee of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who released classified information about top-secret US government surveillance programs to the media. He has been charged by the US with espionage and theft of government property, and applied for asylum in Russia on Tuesday.
“I love the Olympics, but I hate what the Russian government is doing throughout the world,” Graham told NBC.
“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,” he added.
Graham’s suggestion of a possible US Olympic boycott received strong reaction in Russia.
“America is in an extremely uncomfortable situation because of its surveillance of citizens of the whole world and this has undermined its reputation as the ‘beacon of democracy,'” Sen. Ruslan Gattarov, chairman of the committee on information society in the Federation Council told RIA Novosti.
Statements like Graham’s only demonstrate that “in the international arena, when the United States can’t use its army and navy to strike at a country directly, it starts issuing political statements that belittle itself,” added Gattarov.
Shamil Tarpischev, a Russian member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), told the R-Sport news agency that the IOC charter and past tradition dictate an “Olympic truce” in all wars during the course of the games.
Graham’s remarks are “absolutely devoid of understanding of the sports movement as a whole,” added Tarpischev. “In reality, there is nothing to this apart from tabloid chatter and an effort to attract attention and show off. Sports encompasses the world itself.”
“It is obvious that the senator is not a sportsman himself. In reality, he merely wants to aggravate this situation for some interests of his own,” Tarpischev told R-Sport.
Graham is the first member of the US Congress to suggest an Olympic boycott over the Snowden affair. Others, including some of Graham’s key allies, were hesitant to support such a move.
“There’s many things we can do, but I think the experience of canceling the Olympics the last time around wasn’t very good,” said Sen. John McCain, according to The Hill.
House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Wednesday that it would be unfair to punish US athletes over a “traitor” like Snowden.
The United States under then-President Jimmy Carter led a multi-national boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Beyond Snowden, Graham said there were several other reasons to consider the 2014 boycott, including Russia’s support for the regime in Syria, threatening Israel and helping Iran’s nuclear program.
“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,” Graham said.
“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?” he added.
The US Olympic Committee said it and not the US government would have the final say on any boycott.