Several Russian MPs and members of the country’s National Olympic Committee have harshly criticized the suggestion to boycott the winter games in Sochi voiced by US Senator Lindsey Graham.
The Republican Senator from South Carolina told The Hill newspaper that President Barack Obama should consider boycotting the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi if Russian authorities granted asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, a move Graham described as “outrageous”, “a breach of the rule of law” and “a slap in the face to the United States”.
Soon after the interview was published, the Russian Federal Migration Service reported on Wednesday that it had received Snowden’s request for temporary asylum and would now consider it for up to three months. But even with the whistleblower’s fate yet undecided, several Russian officials immediately reacted at the Senator’s call for boycott, saying that it was a throwback to the Cold War and absurd as it is not allowed by the rules of the Olympics.
The head of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, Aleksey Pushkov, said that Senator Graham’s statement was “pulling us back to the distant past, the time of mutual boycotts when our two states were looking at each other through nuclear sights”. "I am sure that these times are over and difficult periods in relations must not bring the nations to the worst times of the Cold War,” the parliamentarian added.
MP Vasily Shestakov (United Russia), who is a member of the Lower House Committee for Sports, said that he was sure that the US authorities would ignore Senator Graham’s words, adding that they have not even been supported by any of his colleagues. “I hope that certain politicians in the United States would stop making populist statements and start thinking more about their own citizens,” Shestakov noted.
The politician reminded of the partial boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and the retaliatory boycott of the 1984 games in Los Angeles and emphasized that these moves mostly hurt the athletes who were preparing for the games for their whole lives. “Can you imagine what the sportsmen feel when someone tries to get PR credit by making such statements?” Shestakov asked.
Russian Senator Ruslan Gattarov said that Graham’s call “only demonstrated that the United States cannot influence some country by means of their Army and Navy and so they start making political declarations that at once diminish themselves,” Gattarov stated. “The US has found itself in an uncomfortable position when it was eavesdropping on people in the whole world, undermining its reputation as a beacon of democracy and due to Graham’s declarations America for the second time undermined its reputation of a state that follows democratic principles and that is capable of a constructive dialogue,” the Russian senator added.
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The honorary president of the Russian Olympics Committee, Vitaly Smirnov, said that boycotts were banned by the Olympics rules and explained that previously nations never openly declared their political motives, but instead blamed the lack of funds or some other excuse.
“The Olympic Games is an international event and athletes are invited not by the organization committees, but by the International Olympic Committee. I can only feel sorry for the people who influence the Congress’s decision, this unhealthy reaction of certain people must not be supported by the whole nation,” Smirnov said.
Russia’s representative in the International Olympic Committee, world champion swimmer Aleksandr Popov stressed in comments that sports had always been out of politics and suggested to wait for official reaction from the IOC’s leaders. “The USA is a democracy and anyone can afford any sort of statements there. But it is obvious that sports and politics are not connected between each other,” the Russian sports official noted.