That Time The USA Boycotted The Olympics

By Kanyi M October 11, 2021

1980 was a wild year. With American citizens staying home to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the USSR dominated.

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Boots were on the ground in Afghanistan, and 27 countries refused to participate in the Games, including all but one of America’s allies. The boycott was seen as a display of weakness by many countries around the world. 1980 marked one of two times that a boycott has been used as an instrument of foreign policy against Soviet Russia – this was another time when Russian Athletes had won most Gold Medals. The United States would go on to win only two medals: gold and a bronze.

The year 1980 marked an important turning point in Cold War relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was the year when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and when we, in response, boycotted the Moscow Olympics. We were later joined by many other nations in our boycott of what was then still called the “Soviet Games.”
The Olympic boycott was a bold and innovative move in our struggle for world peace. It showed the Soviets that we were a united people with a common objective: free nations from their aggression and maintain world peace through collective security. It underscored the key role of the United States in world affairs and laid the groundwork for future negotiations.

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The year before the boycott, the U.S. had signed a Mutual Security Treaty with NATO, giving our military forces legal bases to operate within Europe at will. The Soviets had withdrawn from World War II without an agreement on spheres of influence, so they were understandably wary of any proposal that might threaten their dominance in Eastern Europe.
Jimmy Carter, who had been elected in 1976, was determined to secure a permanent NATO presence in the nations formerly under the rule of Nazi Germany. The Soviets were not about to give up their influence in Europe without a fight.