Olympics 2021: A history of boycotting the Olympic Games

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The 1980 Moscow Games were marked by the biggest boycott in Olympic history (Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/TempSport/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
The 1980 Moscow Games were marked by the biggest boycott in Olympic history (Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/TempSport/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

You think sport has nothing to do with politics? In the case of the Olympic Games, that’s not quite true. 

Over their centennial history, there have been several boycotts of the modern Olympics, mostly for political reasons. 

Below is a selection of some of the most famous ones.

Melbourne 1956

The Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 were the first affected by boycotts. 

Israeli, British and French attacks on the Suez Canal provoked Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon to renounce their participation in the Games. 

Spain, the Netherlands and Switzerland also boycotted the event due to the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary.

The Montreal Olympics also suffered from boycotts. 

Thirty-two countries withdrew from the Games when the International Olympic Committee refused to ban New Zealand because its national rugby team toured South Africa under the Apartheid regime. 

China and Taiwan also refused to participate in the Games over a diplomatic dispute with Canada that required Taiwanese athletes to compete under the Taiwanese flag.

Moscow 1980

The Moscow Olympic Games saw the biggest boycott in history. 

With the world living under the threat of the Cold War, a certain level of tension over the event was expected. 

To protest against the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the American President, Jimmy Carter, announced that the United States would not participate in the Games. 

Another 62 capitalist countries followed suit, making the 1980 Olympics the Games with the least number of participating athletes since 1956. 

With less competition, the hosts utterly dominated the medals table with 80 golds and almost 200 medals in total.

Los Angeles 1984

Every action has a reaction. Alleging a lack of security for the athletes at the Los Angeles Games, the Soviet Union and its 14 satellite states boycotted the Games. 

The Soviet block countries organised the Friendship Games the same year as a kind of ‘Alternative Olympics’. 

With the Soviet Union absent, the United States dominated the medals table with a total of 83 golds

Seoul 1988

The first Games in which West Germany, the United States and the Soviet Union participated at the same time in more than a decade also had its boycotts. 

North Korea requested to host some of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and also wanted its own opening and closing ceremonies. 

Following unsuccessful negotiations with the International Olympic Committee, they chose to boycott the Games. Cuba, North Korea's political ally, also boycotted the event.

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