Olympics are leading international sporting events featuring summer and winter sports competitions in which thousands of athletes from around the world participate in a variety of competitions.
When we hear the word “boycott”, most of us think of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela encouraging rebellion against the establishment. We do not picture individual countries choosing to give up the festivities of sports games to make a point.
Yet games are often boycotted, After witnessing sportspersons around the world take a knee for the Black Lives Matter, we should not be surprised by the line between sports and politics sometimes becomes blurred.
The most prestigious sporting event, the Olympics has been boycotted at least seven times.
1936 Berlin Olympics
In the year 1936, Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany were at the height of their power. As the 1936 Berlin competitions drew closer, many countries debated sending athletes to the games.
Efforts to boycott the Berlin Olympics ultimately failed in most countries except Spain and the Soviet Union.
The 1956 Athletics contests took place at a time Asia and Europe were mired in conflict. This led to various countries boycotting the Olympics for entirely different reasons.
In 1956, Israel, France, and the United Kingdom invaded Egypt. This led to Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon boycotting the Olympics, which were being hosted by Britain’s close ally, Australia.
In the same year, an anticommunism revolution in Hungary was brutally put down by the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of the revolution, some countries refused to participate in the same Olympics as the Soviet Union. These countries included the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Spain.
That same year, Taiwan was allowed to participate as a country. This led to China withdrawing from the Olympics, a decision the country would maintain until 1984.
In 1963, Indonesia created the Games of the New Emerging Forces. These were an alternative to the Olympics for socialist states. Unlike the Olympics, participation was based on a country’s political alignment.
One of the rules of these new games was participants were not allowed to partake in the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee responded in kind. This led to North Korea, China, and Indonesia boycotting the 1964 Olympics.
In the 1970s, Apartheid South Africa was at the climax of its power. As the world started turning against South Africa, the United Nations lobbied for the apartheid state to be banned from all sporting events. The IOC had already done so by expelling South Africa in 1970.
However, New Zealand went on a rugby tour in South Africa. Many African countries requested New Zealand’s removal from the games as punishment. When the IOC refused the request, nearly thirty countries, most of them African, boycotted the Montreal Olympics. The 1976 games remain the second most boycotted Olympics.
The period after World War II up to the 1990s was characterized by a conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, known as the cold war. As part of this struggle, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. This led to the United States boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
The US managed to convince many countries to follow its lead. As a result, an unbeaten record of sixty-plus countries did not send athletes to Moscow.
In 1984, the Soviet Union claimed their athletes would be in danger if they participated in the Los Angeles competitions. According to the Soviets, the US was busy creating an unfriendly environment for communists in the country.
Many subsequently accused the Soviet Union of trying to take revenge on the US for boycotting the 1980 Moscow games. If that was true, then the Soviet Union failed in its efforts. The fourteen countries that followed them in boycotting the Olympics were nothing to the sixty-four who boycotted the Moscow Olympics.