Graham: Boycotting Olympics would get Putin’s attention
July 17th, 2013
10:43 AM ET
9 months ago

Graham: Boycotting Olympics would get Putin’s attention

Updated at 3:04 p.m. ET on 7/17

(CNN) - It was a suggestion made quickly to a reporter in a Capitol hallway.

But now that Sen. Lindsey Graham is on the record as suggesting a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the South Carolina Republican says it could be a consideration if Vladimir Putin allows NSA leaker Edward Snowden to remain in his country and continues supporting Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

"I would consider anything to change Russia's behavior," Graham told CNN Wednesday. "What I want to do is get people focused on what Russia's doing to the world."

Part of that effort should also include a change in venue for September's Group of 20 meetings, slated for Saint Petersburg. Saying he wanted to "change Russian behavior, not boycott the Olympics," Graham told CNN's Jake Tapper later Wednesday that President Barack Obama should reconsider his upcoming trip to Russia.

"In September, the G-20 meets in St. Petersburg. Mr. President, President Obama, should you go to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the G-20 Summit, if they give Snowden asylum and they don't change their policy toward Syria and continue to help Iran, should you go? My advice to you is I wouldn't go to St. Pete. I would ask for a change of venue," Graham said. That interview is set to air at 4 p.m. ET on "The Lead."

Asked about the summit Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said it was still Obama's intention to travel to Russia for the G-20 - and that any talk of an Olympics boycott was premature.

"We are continuing to work with the Russian government and other nations on this matter and we hope to see Mr. Snowden return to the U.S. I'm not going to engage in speculation about that and the Olympics are a long way off," Carney said.

Graham told CNN earlier in the day he was introducing a resolution in the Senate this week calling on Russia to refuse Snowden asylum. The former government contractor remains holed up in the Moscow Airport transit lounge, and Russian authorities have said in the past they would consider an asylum request but that it will take months.

Graham's resolution won't include any mention of the Olympics, but he said Wednesday that as long as people are talking about ways to grab Putin's attention, a boycott could remain on the table.

"It's something I was asked about, but now that we're talking about it, we're going to have to find a more effective way of dealing with the Russians," he said. "They're wreaking havoc. Their allies in Iran are keeping Assad in power. They're giving Snowden asylum. That's a real slap in the face to our country."

Long a vocal critic of Putin's, Graham wondered about the message it would send to other countries if United States athletes head to the Russian mountains next winter.

"Let's say a year from now there are 200,000 people dead in Syria...Snowden's given asylum in Syria. What are we supposed to do, say 'Let's go to Russia for a party?'" he wondered.

The last time the United States boycotted an Olympics, Moscow and Washington were also at odds. Americans, along with athletes from more than 60 other nations, skipped the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow as retaliation for the then-Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier.

A boycott was proposed in 1936, when Hitler-run Germany hosted the games. When black and Jewish athletes were barred, some Americans suggested the U.S. refuse to participate, though after the ban was lifted Americans did attend.

Graham, raising the history of those Games, didn't go as far as comparing modern Russia to the Third Reich.

"I'm not saying Russia is Nazi Germany, I'm saying it's a rogue regime that's aligned itself with some of the worst actors in the world stage," he said.

Graham's suggestion wasn't met with much enthusiasm from fellow Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, who called an Olympics boycott "dead wrong" on Wednesday.

"Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for 3 years over a traitor who can't find place to call home?" he wondered.

The U.S. Olympic Committee, mindful of their members' long training schedules, also came out against Graham's suggestion of a boycott.

"If there are any lessons to be learned from the American boycott of 1980, it is that Olympic boycotts do not work," USCO spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said. "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."

But Graham insisted that even talking about the move could raise awareness of Russia's intransigence on world affairs.

"Women I've met who have been gang-raped by Assad's forces in refugee camps, that doesn't make a whole lot of news. Maybe talking about sports will," he said.

CNN's Deirdre Walsh, Lisa Desjardins and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.


Filed under: Lindsey Graham • Olympics • Russia
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Good idea Lindsey. But since we're on the topic of boycotting stuff, let's start with the State of Florida shall we.

    July 17, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  2. rs

    Give it up Graham- Sports is at least ONE place where there ought not be politics. This isn't the 1950's, despite what your GOP calendar says.

    July 17, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  3. Al-NY,NY

    Yeah, and the last boycott we did really worked out well..........Go back to your SC bubble and let the thinkers work on it Lindsey

    July 17, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  4. sonny chapman

    Jimmy Carter did it in 1979 re: Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Repubs. hated him for doing it. Hell, they hated everything he did.

    July 17, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  5. Lynda/Minnesota

    “Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for 3 years over a traitor who can't find place to call home?" he wondered."

    I don't know, John Boehner. Ask Lindsey. It's his talking point. He's backtracking from "it's all about Snowden" to "let's make it all about Putin" while throwing in a bit of "Nazi Germany" as blah, blah, blah talking point frosting.

    And tomorrow? Who knows what version he'll be selling his media friends tomorrow?

    July 17, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  6. Tampa Tim

    Miss Lindsay is not much into diplomacy. When he isn't voting for wars, he is trying to start up a Cold War.

    July 17, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  7. Rudy NYC

    Don't boycott the Olympics again. The US boycotted in 1980 and it did absolutely noting. The Russians could have cared less if the US wasn't there. In fact, the Russians may have had their best Summer Olympics medal count ever. The only thing that the 1980 boycott achieved was that it smashed he dreams of thousands of US atheletes. Pres. Carter was hated by many for doing that, and I think Graham knows that. HIs suggesting is setting Pres. Obama up to fail.

    July 17, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  8. chilly g

    this it would be very stupid not to allow american athlets to be in the games, graham is running for reelection
    and is looking for someone to punish hoping it will help him get reelected, sad sad sad.
    hes is one of the worst law makin the country.

    July 17, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  9. roccoenzo

    We did this in 1980 and it was a mistake, it's not fair to all our athletes who work hard for this opportunity. It is too bad that this is all he has to worry about.

    July 17, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  10. just sayin

    Idiot. keep politics out of the olympics. these athletes train their entire lives for this and may not get another chance. they are not politicians pawns to be played with. deal with snowden some other way.

    July 17, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  11. Bill from GA

    Lindsey, YOU boycott the Olympics, but leave those athletes out of you stupid political games. They have worked hard to get to the top of their field, and to take it away for your feel-good moment, as well as showing the world what low-life babies the Americans are, is disgraceful.

    Russia is doing exactly what we would do in their situation.

    July 17, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  12. IrishinToronto

    Sochi is just another opportunity for Putin to take his shirt off for cameras – he doesn't care if Americans show up.

    July 17, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  13. NameJohn jimoh

    America is a hypocryte nation. A regime of pretenders, accusing China of espionage, while they re the real fraud; spying on nations secrets. They invaded Afgan,Iraq,Panama etc,they aided the Talibans against Russia. So why re they accusing Russia?

    July 17, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  14. Lisa P.

    So how is Snowden finding asylum in Syria a potentially bad thing? It sounds to me just about exactly what the little weasel deserves.

    Also kind of sad that Graham thinks he needs lurid tales of gang-rape in refugee camps (which I thought were all outside of Syria? Not sure how "Assad's forces" fit into that scenario) to get our attention. Isn't being shelled and bombed out of house and home by your own government enough anymore to get the world to notice? Are we all that numb?

    July 17, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  15. Pete

    Lindsey Graham wants to boycott something that'll send a message..Then boycott the republicans in congress then telling them they're traitors to America and sending them home ,bags in hand might wake up the rest on these incompetent,inept politicians to start doing what they were sent there for,helping America and its people!!Read the US Constitution Article III,section 3 and see if you think that this fits them as traitors against our country,you'll agree if you have any brains,emotions in helping America and its people,something republicans have forgotten to do!!

    July 17, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  16. Lynda/Minnesota

    “Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for 3 years over a traitor who can't find place to call home?" he wondered."

    I don't know, John Boehner. Ask Lindsey. It's his talking point. He's backtracking from "it's all about Snowden" to "let's make it all about Putin" while throwing in a bit of "Nazi Germany" as blah, blah, blah talking point frosting.

    And tomorrow? Who knows what version he'll be selling his media friends tomorrow?

    July 17, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  17. just askin

    why is russia doing this to us? what happened to the obama reset with russia?? i thought obama and putin were great friends? obama slapped that russki pm medvedev on the knee and said he'd be more flexible after the election. obama cancelled missile deployments to please putin. and putin has done nothing but spit in obama's face the entire time. it looks like obama doesn't know what he is doing when it comes to dealing with putin and the russians. nothing new there i guess.

    July 17, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  18. California

    We have enough problems in our own country like racists rioting in the streets.

    July 17, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  19. Moderate Sean

    Someone please tell this self-absorbed, pseudo-thinking want-to-be President that he he is only in the Senate and does not control foreign policy. That is the job of the Executive Branch, or the REAL President of the U.S. and his administration. Get over it Lindsey, you only represent the interests of a portion of the people in South Carolina (those who voted for you). If you want to be President, try running for the office and please be quiet for a change in the mean-time!

    July 17, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  20. g

    boycott the one event that brings the world together .sounds republican ,the 1980 boycott was about russians killing the same people americans are killing today.that really worked out well

    July 17, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  21. Peg in Cleveland

    It was dumb when we did it the last time and its dummer today. Useless republicans do nothing constructive and look daily for something to destroy. Our non-pro young athletes work for years to compete in the Olympics....and Lindsey Graham, as usual flaps his mouth without any thought whatsoever. Leave the turkey in Russia, hope he has a lovely Russian life.
    Can we find a way to ship Lindsey Graham over there too?

    July 17, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  22. Rudy NYC

    California wrote:

    We have enough problems in our own country like racists rioting in the streets.
    -----------–
    Oh, do you mean those Tea Party rallies? Bait and switch, again. Okay, I'll bite.

    The George Zimmerman was not a SYG case. GZ could not make that claim because he could not demonstrate that TM attacked him. That's why he was charged with murder. And, that's why so many in the minority community are troubled by the jury's decision.

    If GZ could not prove his story to meet the SYG standard, then why was it so readily accepted as *fact* in his murder trial? People cannot reconcile that hypocrisy.

    July 17, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  23. just sayin

    if obama wants to get putin's attention put the missiles in poland!! they never should have been cancelled. obama has shown himself a weak leader and putin is walking all over him and the usa. obama has completely blown it when it comes to us-russian relations.

    July 17, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  24. U.S. Citizen

    No Senator.
    Russia would just snicker at our pettiness.

    July 17, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  25. Brian

    Yeah, because escalation of tensions is really the way to make friends. Really worked well in the 2nd half of the 20th Century. Gave us the Cold War. Brilliant suggestion.

    July 17, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
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