Olympics: A history of boycotting the Games

·3-min read
Olympics: A history of boycotting the Games
Steven Ovett (N·279), from Great Britain, on the way to win the Olympic 800m event, 26 July 1980 in the Lenin Stadium in Moscow. Left to Right, 341- RDA Detlef Wagenknecht, 254 - GBR Sebastian Coe (Silver medal), 78 - BRA Agberto Concei Guimaraes, 279 - GBR Steven Ovett (Gold medal) and 707 - USSR Nikolaï Kirov (Bronze meadle). (Photo by STAFF / EPU / AFP)        (Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Steve Ovett on the way to 800m Olympic gold in 1980, an event boycotted by the Americans. (AFP via Getty Images)

When the Tokyo Olympics were rescheduled for 2021 due to the global pandemic, sport's four-yearly extravaganza was forced into its first major disruption or cancellation since the Second World War. 

But the Olympic Games have still had to weather a heavy dose of politics, as well as enduring several boycotts in the modern era. 

Here, Yahoo Sports takes a look at four previous episodes where politics has got in the way of sport.

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.

MELBOURNE - 1956: Ron Clarke of Australia lights the Olympic Torch at the opening ceremony of the 17th Olympic Games held in Melbourne during 1956.(Photo by Getty Images)
Ron Clarke of Australia lights the Olympic Torch at the opening ceremony of the 17th Olympic Games held in Melbourne in 1956. (Getty Images)

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 then 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.

11 AUG 1984:  THE 4x400 METRES RELAY TEAM OF THE UNITED STATES CELEBRATE AFTER CLAIMING THE GOLD MEDAL AT THE 1984 LOS ANGELES OLYMPICS. THEY ARE LILLIE LEATHERWOOD , SHERRI HOWARD , VALERIE BRISCO-HOOKS AND CHANDRA CHEESEBOROUGH.
The victorious US women's 4x400m team in 1984. (Getty)

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 bloc countries organised the Friendship Games the same year as a kind of ‘Alternative Olympics’. With the Soviet Union absent, the US dominated the medals table with a total of 83 golds.

Seoul 1988

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson at the start of the 100 Metres semi-final at Seoul Olympic Stadium during the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, 24th September 1988. Johnson won the final in a world record time of 9.79 seconds, but was disqualified for doping. (Photo by Tony Duffy/Getty Images)
Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson at the start of the 100 Metres semi-final at Seoul Olympic Stadiumin 1988. (Tony Duffy/Getty Images)

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.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting