What Was the 1980 Summer Olympics Boycott?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The 1980 Summer Olympics Boycott was a boycott of the Moscow Summer Games led by a number of Western nations, most notably the United States. The orchestrators of the boycott claimed to be protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, stating that they would not send athletes to compete at the 1980 Summer Games unless Russia withdrew its troops. In 1984, the Soviet Union retaliated, boycotting the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and Russia was joined by a number of Eastern Bloc countries.

A map of the Soviet Union, which hosted the 1980 Summer Olympic Games.
A map of the Soviet Union, which hosted the 1980 Summer Olympic Games.

The 1980 boycott was a very interesting event in Olympics history, and some people mark it as a turning point in the history of the Olympics. Even today, the Olympics is supposed to be entirely free of politics, serving as a neutral meeting ground for the most talented athletes in the world to compete, socialize, and learn more about each other and their cultures. By choosing to boycott the Olympics, participating nations brought a political aspect to the event, and it has been difficult to shake politics out of the Olympics as a result.

The 1980 Olympics were boycotted by several western nations.
The 1980 Olympics were boycotted by several western nations.

The Russian invasion of Afghanistan occurred in 1979, and it met with considerable opposition from the West, especially from American President Jimmy Carter. Carter stated his intent to encourage a boycott of the upcoming Olympics, and other Western allies followed suit. The International Olympic Committee protested that governments did not have authority over their National Olympic Committees, and that it was up to these committees to decide whether or not to send athletes to the Olympics. Carter retaliated by threatening to revoke the passports of athletes who traveled to Moscow to compete, flaunting the American stance in the 1980 Summer Olympics Boycott.

Several nations involved in the 1980 Summer Olympics Boycott, including the United States, declined to send athletes to the competition, and indicated that others would be penalized if they chose to attend under their national flag. Several other countries indicated that they would support the boycott, but they would not penalize athletes who wanted to travel to Moscow. As a result, athletes from several nations marched under the Olympic Flag, rather than their national flags, and the Olympic anthem was played during their medal ceremonies.

In retrospect, the 1980 Summer Olympics Boycott was not a very sound political or social move, with some critics believing that other diplomatic channels could have been more effective conduits for a discussion about the situation in Afghanistan. The boycott also set a precedent, raising the issue of future Olympic boycotts.

The US boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics over the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan.
The US boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics over the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


This boycott was pointless. According to Wikipedia, even though only 80 countries participated in the Olympics that year, many world records were set.

This boycott caused problems just to athletes, and very blindly!


I was an athlete who qualified for the Olympics in 1980 and was not allowed to go. In 1984 I failed by a whisker to qualify again mainly because I became ill in the qualifying event. I was and remain gutted. Thirty years has not closed the hole in my soul that this caused. If the country wants to object to russia or China or whatever, please note that there is no evidence whatever that any boycott has ever achieved anything.

In addition, please lay off the athletes as your sacrificial lambs, yet embassies remain open, and we buy russian and Chinese goods, tourists still fly and football teams are still are exchanged.

If you want to hurt them, stop buying their goods and stop ruining young athletes' lives and dreams. This one will hurt to my grave. --Colin S.


I was fairly young, but I also remember the boycott of the Summer 1980 Olympics. To understand it completely, you'd almost have to use a time machine. At the time, the Russians were still the ultimate bad guys, and when they made a land grab for Afghanistan, there were some really horrible stories on the news. The communist Russians weren't about to end their assault on a clearly outnumbered Afghan resistance force. President Jimmy Carter had his problems, especially with the Iran hostage crisis going on at the same time, but most people agreed that the situation in Afghanistan was a horrible humanitarian disaster. Punishing Russia economically by boycotting their Olympic games didn't seem so extreme at the time.

Obviously a lot of Western athletes lost out on an opportunity to prove themselves on the athletic field, but it would be unfair to suggest that Carter acted any different than any other president, Republican or Democrat, would have acted under the circumstances. Contributing in any way to Russia's economy while it was actively engaged in an unjust war would have been an even bigger injustice. If I remember correctly, many of those Western athletes who missed the 1980 Olympics did go on to compete in other world-wide events later that year.


hi anon17388 and screen writer i am doing a report on keeping this out of the Olympics. Is there any help you could give me???


Hey screenwriter,

I hear what you're saying and all, but there is another side to this.

By participating in this year's events in China, we are actively contributing to their opportunities for diplomacy and economic growth while passively allowing the rampant human rights abuses they inflict on their own people.

I appreciate that athletes train hard, but their efforts are not more important than the suffering of individuals oppressed by their own government.


Sadly, I DO remember that 1980 boycott. The OLYMPICS ought to forever operate outside the sphere of politics. President Jimmy Carter was an exceedingly weak president who had to resort to this lame boycott to save face that he was not doing enough. Athletes train for years to prepare and they should never be manipulated like puppets by any political entity. It is forever to the shameful discredit of these United States that we resorted to such an underhanded political ploy.

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