By Allan Muir
After more than a year’s worth of talks, the NHL could be on the verge of announcing that its players will take part in the 2014 Olympic Games
But if one U.S. Senator has his way, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick and the rest of Team USA won’t be joining the world in Sochi.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says that an Olympic boycott is one possible measure that the U.S. should explore if Russia decides to grant temporary asylum to Edward Snowden. Snowden is hiding in Russia after leaking classified documents detailing U.S. surveillance programs.
Graham also expressed concern about Russia’s support for the oppressive regime in Syria, and their enabling of Iran’s nuclear program.
“I don’t know if putting the Olympics on the table is the right answer but I do know this: What we’re doing is not working, and sitting on the sidelines and watching the Russians empower some of the most brutal people in the 21st century, and doing nothing about it is wrong,” Graham said Tuesday.
“What I’m trying to do is let the Russians know enough is enough. How much more are we going to let them get away with before we make it real to them?”
Is this political grandstanding or a legitimate threat just waiting to gain momentum? And would the U.S. really go so far as to stage a boycott as a last resort if all other diplomatic efforts fail? It seems unlikely, but stranger proposals have gained traction in the past.
The situation hasn’t escaped the notice of the NHL.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told SI.com the league has “no specific contingency plans because it is a hypothetical situation at this point. If and when we are faced with something like that as a reality, we are certainly prepared to consider and react appropriately depending on the totality of the circumstances.”
Ultimately, it’s up to the United States Olympic Committee to call for a boycott, not the American government. The USOC did, however, stand behind President Jimmy Carter’s call to boycott the 1980 Moscow Games after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.
That boycott eventually involved 65 nations, including Canada, but did nothing to impact Soviet policy.
The circumstances that led to that movement might seem a little more extreme than those dictating this current talk, but not to the eyes of Graham, who wasn’t afraid to trigger emotions by working Adolf Hitler into his argument.
“If you could go back in time, would you have allowed Hitler to host the  Olympics in [Berlin]? To have the propaganda coup of inviting the world into Nazi Germany and putting on a false front?” Graham asked. “I’m not saying that Russia is Nazi Germany, but I am saying that the Russian government is empowering some of the most evil, hateful people in the world.”
If Graham is looking to gather support for a boycott plan, he won’t find an ally in House Speaker John Boehner.
“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?” Boehner told reporters.