By DONNA CASSATA
President Barack Obama rejected the idea of the United States boycotting the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year despite several significant disputes with Russia.
Answering questions Friday at a White House news conference, Obama said the United States was reassessing its relationship with Moscow but that U.S. athletes should not be penalized by the nations’ differences.
“I do not think it’s appropriate to boycott the Olympics,” Obama told reporters. “We’ve got a bunch of Americans out there who are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed.”
Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in the ongoing civil war and Moscow’s decision to grant temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden have roiled the already uneasy relationship.
Obama also said he was deeply offended by Russia’s new law cracking down on gay rights activism that sports officials have said would be enforced during the Games in February. He suggested that the policy could work against Russia in its quest for Olympic gold.
“One of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which would, I think, go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there,” the president said.
“And if Russia doesn’t have gay or lesbian athletes, then, it’ll probably make their team weaker.”
The U.S. Olympic Committee welcomed Obama’s comments saying a boycott would be wrong.
“The Games bring people together. They unite the world and break down barriers. The Games demonstrate how it is possible to compete fiercely but respectfully,” Scott Blackmun, chief executive officer of the USOC, said in a statement. “As the president suggested, the diverse group of athletes representing our nation next winter makes us a stronger and a better Team USA.”