1980 Summer Olympic Boycott Research Essays

Olympics Boycott essay

The Olympics boycott of 1980 was one of the major sports event of the 20th century that revealed the full extent to which politics influenced the world sports and Olympic movement. At the same time, being driven by morally just reasons, the Olympics boycott of 1980 became the failure of the US because the US made the move that put under a threat the survival of the Olympic Games as one of the few international events that united sportspersons and nations globally, regardless of their political background. In addition, the boycott had failed to become a truly global decision. Instead, the boycott was virtually forced on close allies of the US but it had never been fully supported in the world, while its effects were negative not only for the USSR but also and mainly for American sportspersons, who were deprived of an opportunity to participate in the main sports event of their life which they fairly deserved, because of political concerns of Jim Carter’s administration.

The Olympics boycott was triggered by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as the USSR deployed its military to support the pro-Soviet, communist regime in Afghanistan (Mertin 235). In response to the military intervention of the USSR in Afghanistan, the US and its allies introduced sanctions, among which the boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow was a part of sanctions. The military intervention of the USSR into Afghanistan was apparently the unfair and challenging decision but this political and military move was not new in international politics, taking into consideration the Soviet troops deployment in 1968 in Czechoslovakia, Hungary in 1956 and threatened to deploy its troops in Poland in 1980, while even the US deployed its troops to reach their geopolitical ends, as was the case of Korea in 1953 or Vietnam in 1956-1975. However, neither of the aforementioned conflicts did result in sanctions affecting sportspersons and major sport events like the Olympics.

At the same time, the expansion of sanctions on the Olympics evoked controversial responses not only in the world community but also among allies of the US. In fact, many countries were unwilling to support the Olympics boycott initiated by the US. Therefore, even allies of the US were not willing to support the Olympics boycott, while countries that took the position close to neutral were even more unwilling to join the boycotting cohort. As for social states, they were neither willing nor capable to boycott the Olympics in Moscow, especially in light of the extensive deployment of the Soviet army in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Obviously, socialist states were not willing to trigger the outrage of Moscow which threatened the deployment of troops against states that manifest their disloyalty.

Nevertheless, the US conducted the large scale campaign aiming at the support of the boycott. The US attempted to use celebrities to persuade the public and political leaders along with national committees of other countries to support the US Olympics boycott. For instance, Muhammad Ali’s voyage to Africa before the 1980 Olympics aimed at persuading leaders of some African countries and their national Olympic committees to support the boycott.

The alternative Olympics Boycott Games were conducted in the US. In fact, this was the weak attempt to save the Olympics for those, who supported the boycott because the alternative Olympics were not recognized by the International Olympic committee or by the international community as the Olympic Games. As a result, there were just regional games, a sport event that involves some popular sportspersons but could never be viewed as a large scale, major event of four years period as the Olympics normally are.

Many countries refused to support the Olympics boycott, while many US allies, such as West Germany, had to apply a considerable pressure to persuade their national Olympic committees to support the boycott. At the same time, some countries, which officially refused to participate in the Olympics, still sent their sportspersons, although they participated under the Olympic flag and did not use their national flags and anthems. For instance, French, British and other sportspersons participated in the Olympics in such a way.

Remarkably, the Soviet television did not show the sportspersons under the Olympics flag to maintain the general impression of the worldwide participation and involvement into the Olympic Games. In such a way, the Olympics boycott had failed to defeat the Soviet propaganda since the population of the USSR was just fed up with the Soviet propaganda and the average spectators watching the Olympics in the USSR on TV did not even notice that something went wrong but the absence of the American sportspersons, whom they perceived as enemies and did not really care about their absence.

The Olympic boycott was generally perceived as the failure because even the allies of the US participated in the 1980 Olympics, although their participation was informal. Other countries just refused to support the boycott (Corthorn 51). Even though sixty-five countries did not participate in the Olympics at all, the boycott did not reach its main goal, which it was launched for. The USSR did not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. The public image of the USSR did not suffer much because its response to the boycott was predictable as well as the boycott itself. In addition, the USSR had the powerful propaganda machine that shaped the public opinion in the USSR as the ruling regime wished. Hence, the boycott could not have any significant effects on the public opinion and the population of the USSR and Jim Carter’s administration expected.

On the other hand, sportspersons of those countries, which supported the boycott, suffered the most, whereas the boycott did not affect the USSR much (Cousineau 76). Therefore, the boycott has not reach its main goal to raise the public opinion in the USSR as well as internationally since the USSR public remain basically ignorant or indifferent to the boycott, while the world community was rather willing to participate in the Olympics than support the boycott initiated by the US out of political reasons and concerns.

The aftermath of the Olympics boycott was the deterioration of international relations between the US and the USSR and their allies. In response to the Olympics boycott in 1980 in Moscow, the USSR responded with the boycott of the Olympics of 1984 in Los Angeles (Sarantakes 121). The USSR was supported by thirteen socialist states, which were allies of the USSR. At the same time, there were only two states that supported both boycotts and did not participate in neither Olympics, these states were Albania and Iran.

In fact, the Olympics boycott of 1980 was rather a failure than success. The US failed to make the boycott global. In this regard, undemocratic, socialist states naturally ignored the boycott and participated in the Olympics in Moscow. Moreover, even close allies of the US did not really support the boycott because, in spite of the formal support, sportspersons of the US allies still participated in the Olympics. At the same time, the boycott had a negative impact on the development of sports in the US because the entire generation of sportsperson was deprived of the possibility to participate in the Olympics, which they prepared for during four years. As a result, the refusal of the US Olympic Committee to participate in the Olympics in 1980s in Moscow deprived American sportsperson to participate in the Olympics which was the only lifetime chance for many sportspersons to participate in the Olympics.

Thus, the Olympics boycott of 1980 was rather a failure than success. The politically driven sanctions did not have desirable effects on the USSR and its allies, while the extrapolation of the political struggle between the two superpowers on the Olympic movement contradicted to fundamental principles of the Olympics which always stood on the ground of the peaceful competition between all sportspersons from all over the world.

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Bruised Egos, Battles, and Boycott: The 1980 Moscow Olympics

by Elise Stevens Wilson


Politics and sports have intermingled since the inception of the Olympic Games in Greece, but not until the 1980 Olympics did people fear that politics might destroy the Olympic movement and spirit. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America battled each other ideologically, economically, militarily, culturally, and politically in a very long Cold War that spanned more than forty years (1948–1991). In the midst of the Cold War, the two countries often met in sporting arenas around the world to compete for medals. In 1980, Moscow hosted the Summer Olympics, the first Olympics held in a communist country. Because the United States and the USSR were deep in conflict, especially over the recent movement of Soviet troops into Afghanistan in 1979, the Olympics became an extension of the political arena. The United States did not show up for the games. The 1980 Olympics were not unusual because they were political, but because the extreme degree to which they were politicized had never before been seen. Many Americans and Soviets alike feared that the Olympics would be destroyed if politics infiltrated the games.

In 1980, some Americans believed it their duty to boycott the Olympic Games. Others felt that the Olympics were meant be a de-politicized time when countries could put aside their differences and celebrate something they had in common: sports. These opinions were discussed and debated in the media. Journalists, politicians, athletes, and average citizens expressed their feelings about, and their justifications for or against, the boycott. The 1980 Summer Olympics are significant both in sports history and Cold War history.


In this two-day lesson, students will investigate the various reasons for the boycott and the ways Americans analyzed the 1980 Moscow Olympics at the time. Students will use periodicals as their tools for examining this period in history, and teachers should take the opportunity to discuss media bias. Students will gather information from articles and participate in a debate over whether the US should have boycotted. Additionally, a PowerPoint accompanies this lesson to aid in background information.


  • Students will be able to identify various points of view.
  • Students will be able to describe why the boycott is significant to both sports history and Cold War history.
  • Students will be able to effectively debate using arguments gathered from American periodicals.
  • Students will formulate opinions on whether politics should be mix with sporting events.


Additional Resources

Day One (45–60 minutes)

Use the Think, Pair, Share method or a journal prompt, and ask students the following: Do you think political disagreements between countries should affect their participation in the Olympics? Or: If you were the leader of a country, and the Olympic Games were being held in another country that you believed committed crimes against its people, would you send your athletes to that country? (5 minutes)

Use the 1980 Moscow Olympics Background PowerPoint to introduce the Cold War and the back story to the Moscow Games. (7–10 minutes)

Take some time to discuss media bias with students. Tell students that they will be working with periodicals and that they should take bias into account when reading these sources. (5 minutes)

Divide students into groups of 3–4, and give each group a different article from US periodicals—arguments for and against the boycott found under Materials. Instruct students to read the articles in groups and underline sections that express an opinion about the boycott. (10–15 minutes)

Give each group a large piece of paper and colored markers. Ask each group to discuss their article and write down key ideas. At the top, they should indicate whether are pro-boycott, anti-boycott, or split. (5–10 minutes)

In groups, students should prepare for a debate on whether America should have boycotted the Olympics in Moscow. You can set up the debate in one of two ways.

  1. Students can take on the personalities mentioned in the articles, such as athletes, politicians, the President, the International Olympic Committee, or even the US Olympic Committee, and debate each other on a television show that is similar to The McLaughlin Group or Meet the Press.
  2. Students can be members of a presidential advisory committee on the Olympics. Their job is to convince the President which position to take on the boycott.

Some articles will have opposing viewpoints, so you should divide groups into two. Students should create a slogan that best represents their opinions. This slogan can be displayed during the debate. (15 minutes)


Students should prepare for the debate. To make the debate more interesting, students can dress appropriately for their roles.

Day Two (45–60 minutes)

Most of this class period will be spent on the debate for which students have prepared the previous day. Lay down the ground rules for the debate. There are a number of different ways to hold a class debate. (5 minutes)

Here is one suggestion for a class debate:

1) Assign a student to be a moderator or the teacher can be the moderator. If you chose option (a) for the debate, the moderator can act as the television host. If you chose option (b) for the debate, the moderator can be the President of the United States. 2) Only one person may speak at a time. 3) While a person is speaking others should take notes to use to further support their position or to attack the other side. 4) Provide a time limit for each person to speak (1–2 minutes). 5) Make sure each side has an equal amount of time to speak. 6) At the end of the debate, one student from each side gets one minute to provide closing arguments. 7) Remind them that they are not students, but either the personalities from the articles or members of a presidential committee, and they can feel free to take on these roles fully.

Allow students to meet with their sides for a few minutes. They should pick who will give the closing argument and perhaps who should speak first, second, third, etc. (5 minutes)

Proceed with the debate. (15–25 minutes)

Debrief the debate. Ask students how they would feel about the boycott using the barometer method. For this method, students line up on an imaginary line in the classroom with one end of the line representing the choice to boycott, and the other the choice to attend the Olympics. Students can stand anywhere along this spectrum and justify their position. (5 minutes)

Choose one or more of the articles from US periodicals—coverage of the Moscow Olympics and the boycott found under Materials. Read the article(s) as a class, and make sure to point out the media bias. This will give students some closure to the issue of the boycott as well as allow them to see more of the language and rhetoric used during the Cold War. (10–20 minutes)

Ask students to write a response to the following prompts. (5 minutes)

  • In this debate, who had the most persuasive argument and why?
  • Evaluate whether the Moscow Olympic Games were an appropriate battleground for the Cold War.


In addition to the debate and written responses, students can be assessed in the following manner:

  • Students can write a letter to President Carter either in support of or in opposition to the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Make sure they identify the reasons for their opinions.
  • Students can research other Olympics that have been politicized and write a comparison paper focusing on whether sports activities should be political.
  • Students can research articles from major American newspapers on whether the United States should have supported the Beijing Games in 2008. Many people felt that China, a communist country, had violated human rights and therefore should not be supported. It is an excellent, modern analogy to the Moscow Olympics.


As an extension to this lesson plan, the students can explore how Soviet periodicals covered the boycott and the Moscow Olympics. A good source with an English translation is The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press.

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