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1980 Summer Olympics boycott

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

The 1980 Summer Olympics boycott of the Moscow Olympics was one part of a number of actions initiated by the United States to protest the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.[1] The Soviet Union and other countries would later support the 1984 Summer Olympics boycott.


  • Background 1
  • Response by athletes 2
  • Non-participating countries 3
  • Altered participants 4
    • Nations that did not participate in the Opening Ceremony 4.1
    • National teams represented at the Opening Ceremony by Chef de Mission 4.2
    • Nations under the Olympic Flag by their own athletes 4.3
    • Nations that competed under their respective NOC flag 4.4
  • Aftermath 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


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 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 and discuss with Jimmy Carter and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, before the May 24 deadline, the boycott in an attempt to save the Games. Lord Killanin insisted that the Games should continue as scheduled, and Carter reaffirmed the US position to boycott unless the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan.[4]

Several interventions at the late April 1980 Bilderberg meeting in Aachen included discussion of the implications of the boycott. There was a heavy contention voiced that the perception to the world of the boycott would be viewed as merely a sentimental protest rather than a strategic act. An African representative at the Bilderberg meeting believed that regardless whether there was additional support outside the US a boycott would be an effective symbolic protest dramatically visible to those within the Soviet Union.[5] The Carter administration brought immense pressure on the NATO countries to support the boycott although that support was not universal.

The International Olympics Federations protested that the pressures by the US and other supporting countries for the boycott was an inappropriate means to achieve a political end, and the victims of this action would be the athletes.[6] German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said that the allies "should simply do as they are told".[7] Boxer Muhammad Ali was dispatched by the administration to Tanzania, Nigeria, and Senegal to convince its leaders to join the boycott, although it was widely said in the US domestic press that the reactions to Ali’s public comments in Tanzania supported that the diplomatic mission was a failure.[8]

The United States was ultimately joined fully in the boycott by some countries – including Japan, West Germany (Schmidt was able to convince its National Olympic Committee (NOC) to support the boycott by a narrow margin), China, the Philippines, Argentina and Canada. Some of these countries competed at the Olympic Boycott Games in Philadelphia. The governments of United Kingdom, France and Australia supported the boycott but left any final decision for their athletes to participate in the Games to their respective NOCs and the decision of their individual athletes. The United Kingdom and France sent a much smaller athletic delegation than what was originally possible. The British associations that governed equestrian, hockey, and yachting boycotted completely.[9] Despite the national boycotts, the United Kingdom sent the largest team of 170 athletes among West European countries.[10]

Iran, although a firm enemy of the United States under Ayatollah Khomeini’s new theocracy, similarly boycotted the Moscow Games, since Khomeini joined the United Nations’ and Islamic Conferences’ condemnations of the invasion of Afghanistan.[11] The Islamic Conference – independently of the United States – urged a boycott of Moscow upon the invasion,[12] while the Ayatollah had also dubiously accused Moscow of arming the Baluchis against his regime.[11]

Spain, Italy, Sweden, Iceland and Finland were other principal nations representing western Europe at the Games,[10] but those Italian athletes serving in its military corps could not attend the Games because of the national government’s official support of the boycott. Many events were affected by the loss of participants and some US-born athletes but citizens of other countries, such as Italy and Australia, did compete in Moscow.

Many teams were avoided by Soviet television at the Games during the opening and closing ceremonies because their national governments officially supported the boycott. Their national colors could not be flown or anthems not played (Australia, Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Puerto Rico, San Marino, Spain, and Switzerland).

Lord Killanin permitted NOC-qualified athletes to compete at the Games without their national flags or anthems (which allowed NOCs to send athletes in a non-national context) but this did not allow other individuals lacking NOC sanction to participate in the Games as this was perceived by the IOC as a potential weakening of their authority.[3] Four athletes from New Zealand competed independently and marched under their NOC flag because the government officially supported the boycott.[13] The athletes of 16 countries did not fly their national flags. Instead NOC flags were raised and the Olympic Anthem replaced their national anthems at medal ceremonies. There was one awards ceremony where three NOC flags were raised.

Other modifications were made in the Games activities, such as when the Boycott prevented Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau from attending the Moscow Games. 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. The Antwerp flag was received by an IOC member from the USA instead of the then-current Los Angeles mayor, Tom Bradley; there was no handover to Los Angeles ceremony at the closing.

The Moscow Games does have the distinction that with only eighty participating countries there were more world records set than at the fuller contingent attending in Montreal, 1976.

Response by athletes

On May 24, 1980, Gary Fanelli wore a shirt that read “The Road to Moscow Ends Here” for the marathon time trial in response to the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. The marathon took place in Buffalo, New York.[14][15][16]

Non-participating countries

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

Sixty-five countries that were invited to participate in the 1980 Olympics did not do so for various reasons including support for the boycott and economic reasons. Qatar could not be invited until IOC recognition which occurred in 1980 but too late to be invited.[17]
Taiwan refused to participate as a result of the 1979 Nagoya Resolution, in which the People’s Republic of China agreed to participate in IOC activities if Taiwan was referred to as "Chinese Taipei".

Altered participants

The sixteen nations that follow participated in the Games under some adjustment to full conventional participation in the Games activities.

Nations that did not participate in the Opening Ceremony

Seven countries participated in the Games without taking part in the Opening Ceremony:[18]

National teams represented at the Opening Ceremony by Chef de Mission

Two nations sent one representative each (Chef de Mission) who entered the Olympic stadium during the Opening Ceremony under the Olympic flag; for each country this was a token gesture, as their governments allowed athletes to take part in the Games if they chose to do so. Ireland also competed under the Olympic flag, rather than its own.

Nations under the Olympic Flag by their own athletes

At least 5 national teams participated at the Games under the Olympic flag rather than their respective National or NOC flags which would denote that their participation was officially sanctioned by their respective nations. :[18]

Nations that competed under their respective NOC flag


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".[21] Thirteen Soviet allies joined the boycott, making a total of fourteen nations that boycotted the Olympics. Iran and Albania were the only countries that boycotted both Moscow and Los Angeles. Romania was the only Eastern bloc country that participated in the 1984 Games.

See also


  1. ^ Smothers, Ronald (July 19, 1996). "OLYMPICS;Bitterness Lingering Over Carter’s Boycott". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Smith, Terence (January 20, 1980). "The President Said Nyet". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b American Embassy Memorandum to Secretary of State, “Olympics: Lausanne IOC EXCOM Meeting,” April 23, 1980, US Department of State, FOIA
  4. ^ Secretary of State Memorandum to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts Immediate, “Olympics: Mid-May Update,” May 16, 1980, US Department of State, FOIA
  5. ^ Bilderberg meeting report Aachen, 1980. Retrieved June 16, 2009. Archived June 19, 2009.
  6. ^ American Embassy Memorandum to Secretary of State and White House, “Olympics: IOC Message to Mr. Cutler,” April 27, 1980, US Department of State, FOIA
  7. ^ Sarantakes, Nicholas Evan (2010). Dropping the Torch: Jimmy Carter, the Olympic Boycott, and the Cold War. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 1139788566. p. 121.
  8. ^ Sarantakes. Dropping the Torch, pp. 115–118.
  9. ^ Associated Press (April 23, 1980). "Governments slapped for boycott pressure". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington). p. C1. Retrieved August 8, 2012. 
  10. ^ a b 1980 Summer Olympics Official Report from the Organizing Committee, vol. 2, p. 190.
  11. ^ a b Golan, Galia; Soviet Policies in the Middle East: From World War Two to Gorbachev; p. 193 ISBN 9780521358590
  12. ^ Freedman, Robert O.; Moscow and the Middle East: Soviet Policy since the Invasion of Afghanistan, p. 78 ISBN 0-521-35976-7
  13. ^ 1980 Moscow.
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Lidz, Franz (December 14, 1987). "Having A Costume Ball: Gary Fanelli runs for laughs in outlandish outfits". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  16. ^ Stewart, Phil (August 2008). "Tony Sandoval Wins the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Trials But Not a Trip to Moscow". Running Times. Retrieved May 10, 2015. 
  17. ^ Qatar at the Olympics
  18. ^ a b "Partial Boycott – New IOC President". Keesing’s Record of World Events 26: 30599. December 1980. 
  19. ^  
  20. ^ "Olympics chief feared protests".  
  21. ^ 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".  
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