US Olympic Committee to Graham: Boycotts of Games don't work

The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) said Wednesday it “strongly” opposes calls for a U.S. boycott of the Winter Games in Russia, saying it would only hurt American athletes.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Hill on Tuesday that the Obama administration should contemplate the drastic move if Russia grants asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. The Carter administration led an international boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan the previous year, but the war ground on for another decade.

“If there are any lessons to be learned from the American boycott of 1980, it is that Olympic boycotts do not work,” U.S. Olympic Committee spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. “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 whom had completely dedicated themselves to representing our nation at the Olympic Games, of the opportunity of a lifetime.”

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Graham said the United States should send Russia “the most unequivocal signal I could send them” after Snowden on Tuesday formally requested asylum after spending almost a month in the transit zone of the Moscow airport. Snowden has been charged with espionage for leaking details about two NSA programs that collected information about U.S. telephone calls and international Internet usage.

Alexey Pushkov, a Russian lawmaker, dismissed Graham's remarks as an effort to go back to Cold War times of “mutual boycotts when our two countries looked at each other through, figuratively speaking, nuclear sight.” And President Vladimir Putin said U.S.-Russian ties were “far more important” than the Snowden dispute.

Sandusky said a boycott would harm U.S. interests.

The 1980 boycott “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,” he said. “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.”

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