The Olympic Games aim to help build a better and more peaceful world through sport. But in the 125-year history of the modern Games, quadrennial international competitions have been marred by geopolitical drama, resulting in cancellations, bans and boycotts.
Some Games, such as the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Berlin, saw countries (including the United States and the United Kingdom) threaten to withdraw, before deciding to participate. World Wars I and II forced the cancellation of three Olympic Games, in 1916, 1940 and 1944. And other countries were banned for various reasons: Germany and Japan in 1948 because of their role in the World War II, apartheid-era South Africa and Russia in 2020, due to a doping scandal (although individual athletes were eventually allowed to compete.)
Six times, however, countries have officially boycotted the Olympics, with only three countries refusing to compete in 1964 and up to 65 countries remaining at home in 1980. Here is a list of boycotted Olympics with their causes.
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Host city: Melbourne, Australia
Boycott countries: China, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland
The details: Australia’s first hospitality visit also marked the first Olympic boycott, with many countries withdrawing for various political reasons. Less than a month before the opening ceremony, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to stop the Hungarian revolution against the communist regime; in protest, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland all refused to participate. Meanwhile, the People’s Republic of China has also withdrawn – and will not return until the 1980 Winter Games – because Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province, was allowed to participate as a separate country. . And, finally, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon boycotted the 1956 Olympics due to the Suez Canal crisis following the Anglo-Israeli-French invasion of Egypt to control the way. navigable.
“Blood in the water”: Despite boycotting other countries against the Soviets, Hungary participated in the Olympics and its athletes received support from fans, while Soviet athletes were booed. A violent water polo match between the two teams left a Hungarian player bleeding from his head and sparked a brawl between spectators and athletes. Hungary, down 4-0 at the start of the brawl, were named the winners and the team eventually won the gold medal. The Soviets, for their part, won the most medals for the first time.
To note: In a demonstration of peace, the Olympic athletes, for the first time, marched in the closing ceremony mixed together, rather than as separate nations, a tradition that continues today.
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Host city: Tokyo, Japan
Boycott countries: China, North Korea and Indonesia
The details: China, North Korea and Indonesia chose to boycott the first Games held in an Asian country after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it would disqualify athletes who competed in the Games from new emerging forces organized in Jakarta in 1963, created as an alternative multinational amateur competition. Boycott countries have sent many of their best athletes to the Jakarta games.
To note: This was the first year that South Africa was banned from participating in the Olympics due to apartheid, a ban that continued until 1992.
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Host city: Montreal Canada
Boycott countries: More than 20 predominantly African countries and Taiwan
The details: When the New Zealand national rugby team defied an international sports embargo against South Africa and visited the apartheid country earlier this year, 28 African countries, comprising most of the continent , declared a boycott of the Olympics, which allowed New Zealand to participate. Led by Tanzania, the boycott involved more than 400 athletes. In a separate action, Taiwan withdrew from the Games when Canada refused to let its team compete as the Republic of China.
To note: The boycott led to hotel and ticket reimbursements totaling C $ 1 million. This particularly affected several athletics events, where countries like Kenya and Tanzania have often won medals.
Host city: Moscow, Russia
Boycott countries: 65 countries, led by the United States
The details: In protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 27, 1979, more than 60 nations refused to participate in the games organized by Moscow. Led by the United States and President Jimmy Carter, the boycott included Canada, Israel, Japan, China and West Germany, as well as most Islamic countries. Afghan athletes in particular participated in the Games. Some countries did not prohibit athletes from competing as individuals under the Olympic flag, but American athletes who attempted to compete risked losing their passports. A group of American athletes sued the United States Olympic Committee for participation but lost the lawsuit. The boycott resulted in only 80 countries participating in the Olympics, the fewest since 1956.
To note: Carter enlisted boxing star Muhammad Ali to campaign across Africa to recruit countries to join the boycott. However, Ali turned the tide on the tour, facing criticism for being a White House puppet. The boycott did little to end the Soviet-Afghan war, which raged until 1989. And, with the United States and other powers out of competition, the Soviets won. 195 medals, an Olympic record that still stands.
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Host city: Los Angeles, United States
Boycott countries: 14 countries, led by the Soviet Union
The details: In retaliation for the US-led boycott of the Moscow Games four years earlier, 14 nations, led by the Soviet Union, including East Germany, boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics. Joined by most of the Eastern Bloc countries, the Soviets have said they fear physical attacks and protests on American soil. “Chauvinistic sentiments and anti-Soviet hysteria are stoked in this country,” a government statement read.
To note: Despite the boycott, 140 nations participated in the Games, an Olympic record. And with the Soviets out of the race, the United States easily won the medal count, including a record 83 gold medals. China, in its first Summer Games since 1952, won 31 medals in total. American athletics phenomena Carl Lewis and Joan Benoit, as well as Mary Lou Retton, the first American gymnast to win all-around gold, became instant stars. And the Games were considered a huge financial success, with almost double Montreal’s ticket sales and the title of the most viewed event in television history.
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Host city: Seoul, South Korea
Boycott countries: Cuba, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and North Korea
The details: Irritated at not being allowed to co-host the Games with South Korea, North Korea refused to attend the 1988 event in neighboring Seoul. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, accepted the IOC’s invitation to compete, along with China and the Eastern Bloc countries, leaving only Cuba, Ethiopia and Nicaragua to join North Korea. in the boycott. “Hosting the Olympics in Seoul would be like having them at the US-occupied Guantanamo naval base,” Cuban President Fidel Castro told NBC News at the time. “I wonder if the socialist countries refused to go there (the 1984 Olympics in) Los Angeles for security reasons, if there really is more security in Seoul than in Los Angeles.
The boycotts could not eclipse the fact that the 1988 Olympics, the last Games of the Cold War era, set a new record for the number of nations (159) and athletes (8,000) participating.
To note: Scandals tarnished the Seoul Games, including reports of residents being forced to leave their homes and homeless people being held in Games facilities. Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson made headlines around the world when he was stripped of his world record victory in the 100-meter after testing positive for steroids, and controversial boxing calls against South Korean athletes have caused outrage.
The North Korean and South Korean leaders met in the wake of the events and agreed to send a combined team to the Tokyo 2021 Summer Games. However, North Korea announced in April 2021 that it would not would not participate due to the coronavirus pandemic.