November 12, 2001

Russia and the Olympics

Russia and the Olympics

In an ideal world, the Olympic Games would know no politics and international strife. But, this is not an ideal world. The U.S., being concerned that an event, such as the Olympiad, was to be held in the capitol of the world's most powerful Communist nation, appealed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to have the 1980 Summer Games removed from Moscow. The IOC denied the U.S. request. Attempts, by the U.S., to have the Games cancelled altogether failed, too.

President Carter was a frequent and outspoken critic of other nation's human rights dealings. The Soviet Union considered such comments about their internal affairs and invasion into their personal business. In Vienna, on June 18 of 1979, Carter and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, managed to hammer out a strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II). But, the treaty was not ratified by the U.S. untill January 26, 1996. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had but the whole matter on the back burner.

A note on the Afghanistan affair . . . Afghanistan is an Islamic state bordered by Iran, Pakistan and the former Soviet states of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The country's last monarch, Muhammad Zahir Shah, was ousted in 1973 and Lt. Gen. Muhammad Daoud Khan claimed control of the country. Daoud was murdered, in a coup, by a pro-Soviet faction, in 1978. The coup was supported by the Soviet Union and, in 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to support and place in power Babrak Karmal. More than 5 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran. Heavy casualties were inflicted by U.S. backed rebels known as majahedin. This led to the Soviet withdrawal from the region in 1989. In 1991, the U.S. and Soviet Union agreed to cease their support and arming of the two warring factions; the rebels and the regime. Today, Russia is supportive of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the name of combating global terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S.

The U.S. issued an ultimatum to the Soviets; release control over Afghanistan by February 20, 1980, or else. The Soviet Union had no intentions of letting go of Afghanistan. So, in the afternoon of March 21, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. By boycotting the Moscow Games, the U.S. and others succeeded in denying revenue and political validity to the Communist regime. While the U.S. forbad athletes to participate, Australia allowed her athletes to decide for themselves. Officially, Australia supported the boycott.

Later in March, Carter commanded the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to ban exports to the Soviet Union of a technological nature that could be used in the Games. In 1984, the Soviet Union and thirteen other nations, boycotted the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. This was done in retaliation of the 1980 boycott, concern for the security of their athletes in the U.S. and to protest the gross commercialism of the L.A. Games. To add insult to injury, just a month earlier (Feb. 1980), the world favored Soviet hockey team lost the Olympic gold to the come from behind U.S. team at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

The U.S. and her fellow boycott participants, won a political victory of sorts. But, who really paid the price? First, countless American athletes, who had trained for years, had their, in many cases, only chance at fulfilling a dream snatched away from them by their government. They were understandably hurt and angry, not to mention out considerable money. It should be mentioned that many Soviet athletes felt similar frustration and disappointment. They, too had trained for years in hopes of competing with and winning the Gold over their American counterparts. I think it's safe to say that the athletes of the world were far more interested in their sport and healthy competition than in international politics. An unknown member of the U.S. men's water polo team, wrote, ". . . we touring the world, outclassed every opponent, and we were the odds-on favorite to win gold in Moscow. And then our beautiful phoenix was shot down by President Carter's boycott. All that work... all that sacrifice... for what? "

Secondly, U.S. ally nations resented the fact that they were not consulted or informed of the boycott. Finding out about this new U.S. policy after the decision had been made and, basically, at the same time as the rest of the world did not sit well with these international governments.

The Soviet Union did not take the boycott lightly. Since the U.S. was citing human rights violations in Afghanistan as the reason for the boycott, the Soviets countered by pointing to U.S. human rights hypocrisy in the form of mandating the non-participation of U.S. athletes in the Games. The Soviets encouraged the U.S. allies to consider their position, regarding the Games, independent of the U.S. mandate.

When it was all said and done, the only Americans in Moscow, in the summer of 1980, were tourists. Athletes from 63 nations, including the U.S., were not in attendance. The Olympics are supposed to be showcase and honor the best athletes in the world. This was not allowed to happen in 1980. Politics will always be a part of the Olympics because of the irresistible nature of a global and captive audience.

2002 Winter Olympics Russian Hopefuls

Alpine Skiing: schedule
ALIEVA, Olesja | ZELENSKAYA, Varvara

Biathlon: schedule

Bobsleigh: schedule
POPOV, Yevgeny | ZOUBKOV, Aleksandr

Cross Country: schedule

Figure Skating: schedule
ABT, Aleksandr | AVERBUKH, Ilia | MARININ, Maksim | PLUSHENKO, Yevgeny | SIKHARULIDZE, Anton | TIKHONOV, Aleksei | YAGUDIN, Alexei


Freestyle Skiing: schedule

Ice Hockey: schedule
BURE, Pavel | GONCHAR, Sergei | KASPARAITIS, Darius | KHABIBULIN, Nikolai | KOVALEV, Alexei | TVERDOVSKY, Oleg | YASHIN, Alexei | YUSHKEVICH, Dmitri

BOBROVA, Elena | BURINA, Tatiana | GASHENNIKOVA, Irina | KHOMITCH, Alena | MISHINA, Larisa | MISROPIAN, Maria | PASHKEVITCH, Ekaterina | PETROVSKAYA, Kristina | SHCHELCHKOVA, Zhanna | SMOLENTSEVA, Ekaterina | TSAREVA, Tatiana | YURLOVA, Ludmila

Speed Skating: schedule
BARYSHEVA, Varvara | KLEVCHENYA, Sergei | SAYUTIN, Vadim | SHEPEL, Dmitry | ZHUROVA, Svetlana

Olympic and other Russia related news headlines can be found on our Russian Culture Update page. Medal standings will be posted here beginning February 9, 2002!

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