Olympic Games should not be a political tool

August 08, 2013

The irony is obvious, but in 1980 the United States was part of a multinational boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow — the reason for the boycott being the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan.

The only tangible effect of this boycott was a counter-boycott by the Soviets of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, because we stood accused of perpetuating “anti-Soviet hysteria.”

Today, the Soviets are gone and it’s we who are in Afghanistan. But once again there is talk of a boycott, this time over Russia’s harboring of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

It was Snowden who exposed the National Security Agency’s broad data-mining of emails and phone calls, and American authorities want him brought home to stand trial. Snowden has found safety in Russia, however, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for one, says we should consider pulling out of the games this winter in Sochi, Russia.

Certainly, a boycott would cost Russia some prestige, but beyond that it is difficult to believe that it would accomplish much beyond perpetuating the ongoing Russo-American game of tit for tat.

Also, while Snowden might be important to us, he is hardly a matter of global significance. Indeed, a boycott might backfire if it draws attention to the fact that our government was snooping on other nations as well as its own citizens.

But the greatest reason to abandon talk of a boycott is the athletes themselves, and the fans of these athletes. No one who has not been in their shoes can tell of the unimaginable time, effort and dedication it takes to be an Olympian. To deny their dreams over something entirely unrelated to sports is patently unfair.

And if the average American were asked whether it’s of greater interest to get Snowden back or to watch the Olympic Games, we feel fairly certain the nod would go to the Games by a wide margin.

The Snowden incident will work itself out in time, boycott or no. The Olympics should stand as a beacon above global politics, not a tool that lowers pure athletic competition into the morass of international affairs.

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