Invasion of Afghanistan/Olympic Boycotts (1979, 1980 and 1984)

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In 1980 the Olympic Games were scheduled to be hosted in Moscow. Most countries had expressed their desire to participate such as Israel, West Berlin, and Taiwan although they did not have good diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union (Sanders). However, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The United State and other countries were against the invasion of Afghanistan, initiated Moscow 1980 Olympic Games boycott calls as part of their actions in protest of the invasion. A total of 65 countries did not take part in the games, although 80 nations participated (Kanin). Later in 1984, other countries boycotted Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

The idea of boycotting the Moscow Olympics was conceived during the December 20th, 1979 NATO representatives meeting. This was two weeks before the Afghanistan invasion. Initially, not many nations expressed interest in the proposal (Embick). However, in January the following year, a Russian revolutionist Andrei Sakharov tabled the Idea. Later, on January 14, 1980, after extensive consultation, the US joined Andrei call and set a timeline by which the Soviet Union should have pulled out of Afghanistan. If the Soviet failed, they were to face consequences which included the boycott of the Moscow Olympics Games (Spencer). However, the Soviet Union did not yield to this pressure after the deadline passed, the United States and other nations pulled out their teams from participating in the Olympics. However, the idea of the boycott was justified since the plight of the victims of the invasion was made known.

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On December 27th, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Many nations and most notably the United States condemned these actions. The then Soviet Union head was Leonid Brezhnev; he was ill-guided by his team of advisors that the invasion will take a short time and they would not face any resistance from other nation (Sanders). At the time, the United States president, Jimmy Carter, was engaged in addressing a hostage situation in Iran and Leonid advisers thought that he would not have time to intervene. However, the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan ignited conflict in Central Asia. Jimmy Carter intervened by implementing various measures that would exert pressure on the Soviet Union to Withdraw. The measures employed included removal of the SALT II agreement from the United States Senate for discussion and deliberation, a grain embargo and a likelihood of boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics Games that Moscow was planning to host (Embick). The Olympic boycott did not achieve much, but it was justified since it highlighted the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Soviet Union was reluctant to pull out of Afghanistan. At the beginning of 1980, the United States rallied other countries to boycott the Olympics Games or the games to be moved out of Moscow and be held in another nation. Olympic Games boycott was not new; it had previously been used by countries in Sub- Saharan to protest against the attendance of New Zealand of the Montreal Summer Games. New Zealand rugby team had played against a team from apartheid South Africa (Spencer). Earlier in 1956, Melbourne games were boycotted by a number of Western European nations in protest of Soviet Union invasion. However, the Olympics Games vision and aspiration was to lift sports above politics; but political agendas and messages are shared through sports. Hence, the boycotts are justified since they have been used to highlight social problems and advocate for solutions to this challenges, such as the communist problem.

United States allies such as Britain also joined the protest and advocated for the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter championed for African countries to join the boycott; he sent American boxer Mohammad Ali as a goodwill ambassador to advocate African nations to join the boycott. Sadly, the tour did not yield the expected results; Mohammad Ali was talked out this quest (Embick). Later other US allies which included Australia, West Germany, Israel and Canada joined the movement. Other Islamic nation also offered to support the course. Although in the end, Afghanistan, Britain, and Australia sent athletes to participate in the games. The boycott was justified since it brought together nations to advocate against the invasion.

In retaliation, many communist nations decided not to participate in 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. The Soviet Union and its allies felt that they were now turning the tables by boycotting the 1984 games. However, the communist boycott was a blessing in disguise. The games grossed $225 million in profits and were documented to be the first Olympics Game to ever make a profit since 1932. The communist nation’s 1984 boycott initiated changes on the way the games are played and the results of the games and; thus, justifying the boycott.

The 1980s Olympics Games boycott had a significant Impact on various aspects of the games and other issues as well. The level of competition was affected by pulling out by these nations. In 1980, the Soviet Union dominated the Olympics games while the 1984 games were dominated by the US. However, both the boycotts were justified and had positive Impacts. The 1980 boycott reminded the Soviet that they lacked support to win a war while the United States had allies. In addition, the 1984 Olympics Games grossed historical profits. Lastly, it demonstrated that the game could be used advocate and influence positive changes in the world.

  • Embick, Kevin. “The triumph of containment: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter and the demise of détente.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing (2008): 73-89.
  • Kanin, David B. “The Olympic Boycott in Diplomatic Context.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues (2016): 23-51.
  • Sanders, Jerry. “Olympic Boycotts.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues (2010): 34-69.
  • Spencer, Donald S. The Carter Implosion: Jimmy Carter and the Amateur Style of Diplomacy. New York: Praeger, 2008.

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