United States Boycotts Soviet Union Olympics: This Day in Sports History

Brian Giuffra
Olympic Flame
Olympic Flame / Fox Photos/Getty Images

Before the commercialization of the Olympics (and sports in general), standing up for a cause one's country believed was right, fair, and just meant more than the all-mighty dollar. My, how times have changed.

But in 1980, times were different. The Cold War was still in full swing. The Soviet Union was embroiled in a war in Afghanistan. America was supporting the locals, known as the mujahideen, in their fight against the communist rulers who were backed by the Soviet Union. The US felt the war was a violation of human rights.

Moscow was scheduled to host the 1980 Olympics. The U.S. led a coalition of nations calling for a boycott of the games unless the Soviet Union removed its troops from Afghanistan. The Soviet Union did not comply, so on this day (April 13) in 1980, the U.S. officially announced it was boycotting the Olympics.

Several attempts were made to remedy the situation, but ultimately the United States and 65 other countries did not participate in that year's games. Eighty countries did appear in those Olympics and some athletes from the countries that did not attend still participated in their events under the International Olympic Committee flag. But ultimately, the games were remembered for the boycott.

While this seems crazy today, especially given how much money plays into decision-making like this, at the time it wasn't totally shocking. At the 1976 Olympics, 24 nations boycotted in protest of New Zealand being allowed to compete after it conducted a rugby tour in apartheid South Africa. The Soviet Union also boycotted the 1984 Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles.

Of course, in today's age, the IOC was doing everything it could to conduct the Olympics as normal even in the midst of a global pandemic. Just another example of how times have changed.