The Long History of Olympic Boycotts, Protests and Demonstrations

Geopolitics have always been associated with the Olympics, and this year will be no exception.



Above: John Walker of New Zealand, #694, and Frank Clement of Great Britain, #357,, during the men's 800-meters heats July 23, 1976. during the XXI Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

1976: New Zealand's national rugby team, the All Blacks, toured apartheid South Africa but was allowed to compete in the Montreal games. This incensed the people of several African, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean countries, spurring Tanzania to lead a boycott. Eventually, 26 countries abstained from participating in the games, which pulled 300 athletes out of competition. It led to a scramble to reschedule or cancel certain events — in fact, teams from most of the countries that decided to boycott were already in Montreal, ready to compete.


Above: Lee Kemp (right) was considered the greatest American never to compete in an Olympics when the world champ was part of the 1980 men's freestyle team that was not allowed to compete in the Moscow games because of the U.S. boycott.

1980: Sixty-two countries, led by the United States, staged a boycott of the games in Moscow, following the Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. Only 80 countries competed in the Moscow games (about one third fewer than the number of countries that competed in 1972). While many athletes complied with the decisions of their home countries, many others have cried foul over missing their only shot at competing in the Olympics due to a political protest.


1984: Three months before the Los Angeles games began, the Soviet Union announced it would boycott the games, and most other Eastern Bloc countries followed suit. National leaders said Soviet athletes were feeling threatened by a hostile environment. The Soviet Union then criticized the opening ceremony for following "the worst traditions of Hollywood," for having "cowboys, wagons, and bare-legged girls with many American flags but no place for the Olympic ideals of sport and international friendship."