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Opinion: U.S. boycott of Russian summer Olympics not likely

A prominent senator has suggested – oh so carefully suggested – the United States consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he loves the Olympics, “but I hate what the Russian government is doing throughout the world.”

His remarks touched off a firestorm from athletes in training for the winter games and from the U.S. Olympic Committee. The committee immediately said its members “strongly oppose” a boycott.

Déjà vu all over again?

The senator’s suggestion stirred memories of 1980, when President Jimmy Carter imposed a U.S. boycott of the 1980 summer games in Moscow because the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Sixty-four other nations followed the U.S. lead. Carter’s move was unpopular, especially in the nation’s farm belt. At the time, the Soviet Union was a major importer of U.S. wheat and other grains. And in 1984 the Soviets and 14 other Eastern Bloc nations and Cuba boycotted the Los Angeles summer games.

Graham’s concerns with Russian behavior are legitimate. The regime of Vladimir Putin seems to be going out of its way to challenge American foreign policy whenever an opportunity arises. While the status of thief and leaker of U.S. classified information Edward Snowden has infuriated American officials, Russian support for Iran and Syria are more serious matters for the U.S.

It is unlikely the U.S. would boycott the 2014 winter games. Yet, the reaction from the sports community has been a tad extreme and dishonest. For example, one athlete who lost his chance to compete in 1980 said, “Sports have nothing to do with politics.”

Really? Since when?

There is no more politicized sporting event on the globe than the Olympics. History is clear about that. When Jesse Owens stuck it to Hitler’s claim of Aryan superiority at the 1936 games in Berlin, the messages from the Nazis and the free world were political. When East German athletes were winning routinely over U.S. athletes, the message was political. When Cuban and American baseball teams meet on the diamond, the game is political.

After all, the news every day after competition isn’t about international good will. It’s the medal count. It’s the leader board. It’s what nation has more gold, more total medals than the others. It’s a not-so-subtle political message that the country tallying up the most medals has a better political/social/economic system.

Not about politics? Get real.

Graham’s somewhat incendiary suggestion will make headlines and generate a lot of heated rhetoric. But a boycott of Sochi in 2014? Bet against it.  — The Forum