1980 Summer Olympics boycott

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Incomplete map of Olympic boycotts, showing the nations boycotting the 1980 games in blue.

The 1980 Summer Olympics boycott of the Moscow Olympics was a part of a package of actions initiated by the United States to protest against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.[1] It preceded the 1984 Summer Olympics boycott carried out by the Soviet Union and other Communist-friendly countries.


The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan spurred Jimmy Carter to issue an ultimatum on January 20, 1980 that the United States would boycott the Moscow Olympics if Soviet troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan within one month.[2] After an April 24 meeting, United States Olympic Committee (USOC) President Robert Kane told the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the USOC would still be willing to send a team to Moscow if there were a “spectacular change in the international situation”.[3]

Lord Killanin, then president of the IOC, arranged to meet with Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev before the May 24th deadline to discuss the US boycott and attempt to save the Games. Even though Lord Killanin insisted that the Games should continue as scheduled, Carter reaffirmed the US intention to boycott unless the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan.[4][5]

The pros and cons of the boycott were further discussed in several interventions at the 1980 Bilderberg meeting held towards the end of April in Aachen. The debate partly surrounded the perception that the action could be perceived on the worldwide stage as a sentimental rather than a strategic act. An African representative at the event stated that a boycott would be an effective symbolic protest because of its dramatic visibility to the citizens of the Soviet Union, regardless of whether or not the action provoked a response.[6] Immense pressure was brought to bear by the Carter administration against the NATO countries, not all of which complied with the calls for a boycott. The International Olympics Federations protested against pressures by the US and others forcing other countries to boycott the Games because it was an inappropriate means to achieve a political end, and that the athletes became victims of these boycotts.[7] German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt complained of the United States' attitude that the allies "should simply do as they are told".[8] Boxer Muhammad Ali was dispatched by the administration to Tanzania, Nigeria, and Senegal to convince its leaders to join the boycott, although his public comments in Tanzania were panned in the American press and the diplomatic mission itself was seen as a failure.[9]

The United States was ultimately joined in the boycott by some other countries – including Japan, West Germany (Schmidt was able to convince the national Olympic committee not to send a team by a narrow margin), China, the Philippines, Argentina and Canada. Some of these countries competed at the Olympic Boycott Games in Philadelphia. Notably, United Kingdom, France and Australia supported the boycott but allowed their athletes to participate if they wished and left the final decisions to participate in the Games to their respective National Olympic Committees and the individual athletes of the countries concerned. The United Kingdom and France sent a much smaller delegation of athletes than usual. The British equestrian, hockey, and yachting associations boycotted completely.[10] Nevertheless, the delegation of the United Kingdom was the largest among Western Europe, with 170 athletes applying to compete.[11]

Spain, Italy, Sweden, Iceland and Finland were other principal nations representing western Europe,[11] though Italian athletes belonging to military corps did not attend the Games, due to the government's support of the boycott, which severely affected many events. Some American-born athletes who were citizens of other countries, such as Italy and Australia, did compete in Moscow.

At the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, athletes from a number of countries, including Australia, Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Puerto Rico, San Marino, Spain, and Switzerland, marched under the Olympic Flag, instead of their national flags, a fact that the Soviet TV coverage alternately ignored. Lord Killanin permitted athletes to compete at the Olympic Games without their national flags or anthems which allowed National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to send athletes in a non-national context. This did not allow for individuals to compete under national NOCs because the NOCs believed it would weaken their authority.[3] Moreover, although the government of New Zealand officially supported the boycott, four athletes from that country competed independently and marched under their NOC's flag.[12] Altogether, the athletes of 16 countries were not represented by their national flags, and the Olympic Anthem replaced their national anthems at medal ceremonies. As a result, there was one ceremony where three Olympic Flags were raised.

Because Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau was unable to travel to Moscow due to the boycott, Sandra Henderson and Stéphane Préfontaine, the final torchbearers at the previous games, were sent in his stead to participate in the Antwerp Ceremony at the opening ceremony, and at the closing ceremony, the Los Angeles city flag – rather than the United States flag – was raised to symbolize the next host of the Olympic Games. An IOC member from the USA was used to receive the Antwerp flag instead of the Los Angeles mayor (who at the time was Tom Bradley), and there was no Los Angeles handover ceremony at the closing.

Even though only 80 nations participated, more world records were set in Moscow than in 1976 in Montreal.

Response by athletes[edit]

On May 24, 1980 in Buffalo, New York at the United States Olympic Trials for the marathon, Gary Fanelli led the pack for 15 miles (24 km) while protesting the boycott with a shirt that read "The Road to Moscow Ends Here".[13][14][15]

Non-participating countries[edit]

Anti-boycott sticker, published by the Communist Youth Federation of Spain.

Sixty-five countries did not participate in the Olympics despite being invited. While some of these may not have participated because of the boycott, some did not participate for economic reasons. Qatar was not invited to take part.

*Qatar did not attend the Games because their Olympic Committee was formed the year before and was recognized by IOC in 1980.[16]
**Chinese Taipei / Taiwan did not attend because of the 1979 Nagoya Resolution, in which the People's Republic of China agreed to participate in the IOC if the Republic of China/Taiwan were referred to as "Chinese Taipei".

Altered participants[edit]

Sixteen nations participated in the Games, but paraded into the Olympic stadium without their national flags.

Nations that did not participate in the Opening Ceremony[edit]

Seven countries attending the Games did not participate in the Opening Ceremony:[17]

[clarification needed]

National teams represented at the Opening Ceremony by Chef de Mission[edit]

Two nations were represented at the opening ceremony by their delegation's Chef de Mission, with no participation in the opening ceremony by athletes. Both officials marched with the Olympic flag, rather than their national flag.

Nations under the Olympic Flag by their own athletes[edit]

4 National teams participated at the Games under the Olympic flag and by their own athletes[clarification needed]:[17]

Nations that competed under their NOC flag[edit]


The succeeding 1984 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, United States saw another boycott, this time led by the Soviet Union. On May 8, 1980, the Soviet Union issued a statement that the country would boycott the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles due to "chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria being whipped up in the United States".[20] Thirteen Soviet allies joined the boycott, giving a total of fourteen nations that boycotted the Olympics. Iran and Albania were the only countries that boycotted both Moscow and Los Angeles. Romania and Yugoslavia were the only Eastern bloc countries that participated in the 1984 Games.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smothers, Ronald (July 19, 1996). "OLYMPICS;Bitterness Lingering Over Carter's Boycott". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ "The President Said Nyet". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b American Embassy Memorandum to Secretary of State, “Olympics: Lausanne IOC EXCOM Meeting,” 23 April 1980, US Department of State, FOIA, http://foia.state.gov/Search/results.aspx?searchText=*&caseNumber=F-2011-00809
  4. ^ Lord Killanin, then president of the IOC, arranged to meet with Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev before the May 24th deadline to discuss the US boycott and attempt to save the Games. Even though Lord Killanin insisted that the Games should continue as scheduled, Carter reaffirmed the US intention to boycott them unless the USSR withdraw from Afghanistan
  5. ^ Secretary of State Memorandum to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts Immediate, “Olympics: Mid-May Update,” 16 May 1980, US Department of State, FOIA, http://foia.state.gov/Search/results.aspx?searchText=*&caseNumber=F-2011-00809
  6. ^ Bilderberg meeting report Aachen, 1980. Retrieved June 16, 2009. Archived 06/19/2009.
  7. ^ American Embassy Memorandum to Secretary of State and White House, “Olympics: IOC Message to Mr. Cutler,” 27 April 1980, US Department of State, FOIA, http://foia.state.gov/Search/results.aspx?searchText=*&caseNumber=F-2011-00809
  8. ^ Sarantakes, Nicholas Evan. Dropping the Torch: Jimmy Carter, the Olympic Boycott, and the Cold War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 121.
  9. ^ Sarantakes. Dropping the Torch, pp. 115-118.
  10. ^ Associated Press (23 April 1980). "Governments slapped for boycott pressure". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington). p. C1. Retrieved August 8, 2012. 
  11. ^ a b 1980 Summer Olympics Official Report from the Organizing Committee, vol. 2, p. 190.
  12. ^ 1980 Moscow
  13. ^ USA Track & Field (2004). "2004 USA Olympic Team Trials: Men’s Marathon Media Guide Supplement" (pdf). Santa Barbara, California: USA Track & Field. p. 9. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  14. ^ Lidz, Franz (December 14, 1987). "Having A Costume Ball: Gary Fanelli runs for laughs in outlandish outfits". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  15. ^ Stewart, Phil (August 2008). "Tony Sandoval Wins the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Trials But Not a Trip to Moscow". Running Times. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  16. ^ Qatar at the Olympics
  17. ^ a b "Partial Boycott – New IOC President". Keesing's Record of World Events 26: 30599. December 1980. 
  18. ^ Fimrite, Ron (28 July 1980). "Only The Bears Were Bullish". SI Vault; CNN. Retrieved August 14, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Olympics chief feared protests". Belfasttelegraph.co.uk. 30 December 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2013. 
  20. ^ Burns, John F. (May 9, 1980). "Moscow Will Keep Its Team From Los Angeles Olympics; Tass Cites Peril, U.S. Denies It; Protests Are Issue". New York Times.