NOVOGORSK, Russia (Reuters) - It would be “stupid” to let the conviction of a Kremlin opponent or Moscow’s refusal to extradite fugitive American Edward Snowden interfere with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia’s sports minister said on Friday.
Sports should be separate from politics, Vitaly Mutko said, warning against a repeat of the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow by the United States - a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Asked whether Navalny’s conviction could have a negative effect on the Sochi Games, Mutko said: “I don’t think it will have an influence, that would be absolutely stupid.”
Putin has staked his reputation on the success of the 2014 Winter Games in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, the first Olympics in post-Soviet Russia.
But the five-year prison sentence handed down to opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Thursday deepened U.S. and European criticism of Russia’s human rights record under Putin.
The United States is also angry over Putin’s refusal to hand over Snowden, who is wanted on espionage charges for leaking details of secret U.S. surveillance programs and has been holed up at a Moscow airport for weeks.
A U.S. lawmaker, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, has suggested Washington should consider boycotting the Games if Snowden is granted asylum in Russia.
The United States Olympic Committee said on Wednesday that it opposed any political boycott of the Games.
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Alison Williams