Begich to Obama: Resist calls for Olympic boycott

Beth Bragg
Elite cross country skiers from the APU ski team, the US National team and skiers from other countries participate in the North American Women's Training Alliance camp at the Thomas Glacier Training Center on Eagle Glacier in the Chugach Mountains above Girdwood, AK on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Bob Hallinen

Update, 2:30 p.m. Saturday:

Kikkan Randall emailed this from Eagle Glacier:

This boycott talk is all new news to us. We're a bit disconnected from the world up here as you can imagine!

I really hope this talk is not serious. The Olympic Games are such a positive event and celebration for the world to come together on peaceful terms and it would be really sad to see politics get in the way of the dreams and hard work of so many US Athletes. It's great to see Senator Begich is supporting the athletes.

Original story:

While Anchorage skier Kikkan Randall and a bunch of other Olympic medal contenders are at a training camp on Eagle Glacier this week, two factions are raising prospects of a boycott that would keep the United States out of next February's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Some members of Congress raised the idea of a boycott in response to the news that Edward Snowden, the American who leaked National Security Agency secrets, is seeking asylum in Russia.

And a growing number of people worldwide are calling for a boycott because of anti-gay legislation signed last month by President Vladimar Putin that forbids anything that promotes homosexuality; according to news reports, four Dutch filmmakers were arrested Monday in Murmansk while making a gay-rights documentary.

Both issues are sensitive, said Anchorage's Rosey Fletcher, a three-time Olympic snowboarder who won a bronze medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. But she doesn't think the Olympics are the place to resolve them.

"I was actually just talking to a group of kids about my Olympic experiences and how one of the most memorable things was in 2002 in Salt Lake City, less than six months after what had happened on Sept. 11," Fletcher said. "There couldn't have been a better time for the Olympics based on the philosophy of bringing the world together despite social, religious or political differences, of bringing them together for peace and sport.

"They are both very sensitive issues, obviously, but I don't think there's any place for that in the Olympics based on my beliefs of what the Olympics are. It's putting those things aside despite what's going on in the world of chaos."

Sen. Mark Begich, in a letter written Friday, urged President Obama to reject calls for a boycott over the Snowden issue.

He asked Obama to react to strained U.S.-Russia relations with diplomatic efforts, "not a political gesture that would have the effect of further straining relations and damaging a symbol of international cooperation."

The Winter Olympics have never been held in Russia, which last hosted an Olympics in 1980. Those were the Summer Olympics that the United States and 64 other nations boycotted because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviets boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics.

The idea of a Sochi boycott over the Snowden matter was first raised last week by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. A Graham spokesman later said the senator was reacting not just to Snowden's application for asylum in Russia but also to Russia's support of an Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian regime.

In his letter to Obama, Begich said he supports efforts "to stand up to Russia, but please do not sacrifice the dedication of America's Olympic athletes."

He noted Alaska's contingent of six athletes at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. A number of Alaskans are among the hundreds of Americans currently training for Sochi, Begich wrote, and they should not be "used as pawns in international incidents best resolved by professional diplomats and elected officials."

Randall and 2010 Olympic teammate Holly Brooks of Anchorage are among several Alaska women taking part in a cross-country ski camp at Eagle Glacier this week. They are among a half-dozen or so Alaskans -- skiers, snowboarders, hockey players -- with strong chances of making an Olympic team next year.

Rachel Steer of Anchorage, who competed in biathlon at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, said it would be difficult to train under the spectre of a boycott.

"If I was an athlete training for these Games, that would be a very disturbing possibility -- that somethng you train so hard for might not happen because it's beyond your control," she said. "I can't even imagine."

The U.S. Olympic Committee last week reacted to Graham's suggestion of a boycott, saying its members "strongly oppose" a boycott.

On Friday, the International Olympic Committee sent an email to USA Today in an effort to quell fears that athletes, coaches, officials, spectators or media members will be subject to the law while in Sochi.

"The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games," the email said. "This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi.

"As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media."

Johnny Weir, a two-time Olympian and openly gay figure skater, rejected the idea of a boycott Thursday in an opinion piece published in the Falls Church (Va.) News-Press.

"The fact that Russia is arresting my people, and openly hating a minority and violating Human Rights all over the place is heartbreaking and a travesty of international proportions, but I still will compete," Weir wrote. "There isn't a police officer or a government that, should I qualify, could keep me from competing at the Olympics.

"I respect the LGBT community full heartedly, but I implore the world not to boycott the Olympic Games because of Russia's stance on LGBT rights or lack thereof. ... I pray that people will believe in the Olympic movement no matter where the event is being held, because the Olympics are history, and they do not represent their host, they represent the world entire."

Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.