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HARRIS: Sen. Lindsey Graham’s call for boycott of Sochi Olympics is out to lunch

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2013

During the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, a number of Americans probably gained more weight than they would have liked.

The fast-food chain McDonald's ran a promotion in which you could pick up a game piece during every visit. On the game piece was an Olympic event. If the U.S. won gold in that event, the holder got a free Big Mac. A silver medal meant free french fries. A bronze meant a free soda. A U.S. sweep got the card holder a free meal.

To save itself from giving away too much food, McDonald's had most of the cards printed with events usually dominated by countries in the Soviet bloc.

Except those countries boycotted the Los Angeles Games and McDonald's gave out way more free food than expected.

Free food. That's the only good thing to come out of an Olympic boycott. When you get away from giveaway burgers, it is a bad idea that punishes plenty of people for no good reason.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told The Hill newspaper he thinks the U.S. should consider a boycott of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, if Russia continues to harbor former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. Among the charges he faces is espionage, and he has filed a request for temporary asylum in Russia.

"I would [consider a boycott]. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them," Graham told The Hill. "It might help, because what they're doing is outrageous. We certainly haven't reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum, it's a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States."

Graham's overall point may be spot on. The solution of possibly using an Olympics boycott is about as far from spot on as you can get. It is, frankly, foolish. As were previous Olympic boycotts. The games and politics don't mix and shouldn't mix. Ever.

The U.S., you'll recall, led a boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow in protest over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. A total of 65 nations boycotted those games. Four years later, the Soviet bloc countries boycotted the L.A. Games.

The only thing that came out of those boycotts, besides the free food, were two watered-down Olympics and countless potential Olympians who saw years of training go for naught.

"What good did it do? Zero. Nothing changed," said Anita DeFrantz, a bronze medalist in rowing at the 1976 Games in Montreal who thought she had a good shot at a gold medal in Moscow.

"The only thing it does is hurt athletes. Period. That is the only outcome."

DeFrantz, who is a member of the International Olympic Committee, is grateful she at least had the 1976 experience. She didn't compete in another Olympics. Not every Olympic athlete is Michael Phelps, one who qualifies multiple times and wins a massive number of medals. DeFrantz estimated about 60-70 percent are "one-time Olympians."

The 1980 boycott still stings.

"My friends used to say get over it," she said. "We're a team with no story. We don't exist. But we did exist, we did prepare, we did have great stories to tell the world. We're the team with no results and it is hard to get over no results.

"What is the trade-off? Is it world peace? Is it a better place? That's what it ought to be, if you are trading off something as important as the Olympics."

Graham's idea is not likely to happen, not likely to gain much traction. House Speaker John A. Boehner shot down the idea Wednesday.

"Listen, why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who've been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can't find a place to call home?" the speaker said.

The United States Olympic Committee also issued a strong statement.

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

"It 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. 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."

So, thankfully, Graham appears to be a lone voice in the ridiculous call for an Olympics boycott. Using athletes who have nothing to do with the conflict as some kind of bargaining chip is wrong on so many levels. We don't always seem to learn our lessons from historical mistakes, but that's one we definitely should have learned.

Keep politics out of the games. Always.

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