Boycott 1980 Olympics: Why didn’t US compete in summer games

Heading into the 1980 Summer Olympic Games, public sentiment was in favor of President Jimmy Carter’s call to boycott the Moscow Olympic Games. The Soviet Union had then invaded Afghanistan and simultaneously assassinated the PM. Carter and other leaders around the world were calling the invasion the greatest threat to world since World War II.

Boycott 1980 Olympics: Why didn't US compete in summer games

1980 Olympic Boycott: Politics in the Olympic Games

According to the Carter Administration, there also were other parallels to World War II and the Nazi Party. In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Berlin, Germany. Adolf Hitler used the Olympic Games to validate Germany and the Nazi Party, and according to then-Vice President Walter Mondale, the Soviet government was doing the same.

In a Feb. 13, 1980 news conference, President Jimmy Carter said: “In their own propaganda material they claim that the willingness of the International Olympic Committee to let the Games be held in Moscow is an endorsement of the foreign policy and peace-loving nature of the Soviet Union.”

Boycott 1980 Olympics: Support Among Americans

Because the United States refused to accept the Soviet Union’s foreign policy and the refusal to remove troops from Afghanistan, the Carter Administration decided that United States athletes would not attend the summer Olympic Games and announced the 1980 Olympic boycott.

By mid-March, most of the American public supported the 1980 Olympic boycott. According to a Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans believed the United States should not send athletes to the Moscow Olympics.

But there still was one problem: according to IOC rules, sending athletes to the Olympic Games wasn’t up to the government, and it wasn’t up to the public. It was the USOC that had to make the final decision.

1980 Olympics Boycott: Opposition to the Boycott

Boycott 1980 Olympics

By mid-March, the USOC still hadn’t decided to support the boycott. By the end of March, newspapers and other media outlets were reporting that the USOC would defy the Carter administration and send athletes to Moscow. But on April 4, 1980, USOC Executive Director F. Don Miller said otherwise, despite the fact that a decision had not yet been made.

“If the president determines at the time that the Olympic entries are due that out participation would be detrimental to the national interest and security, I’m certain as good Americans we would respect that.,” Miller said in a Washington Post article. “I think we all recognize that the president of the United States is the one who must make that decision.”

Despite public support, it seemed that many associated with the Olympic movement did not believe the president should make the decision. Members of the USOC, the national governing bodies and many, many athletes spoke out in opposition to the 1980 Olympic boycott.

Athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs already had held a press conference making their feelings known. The USOC had lobbied the IOC to move the Games to a new location.

1980 Olympic Boycott Affect on the USOC Budget

Why didn't US compete in summer games

But ultimately, Carter, his administration, and the public had and edge up on the USOC. The USOC needed money, and the Carter administration, the public and corporations could make or break the organization.

During the 1976-1980 quadrennium, the USOC needed to raise $43 million to meet budget requirements. During the first quarter of 1980, the organization expected to raise $4.2 million, according to Caraccioli.

But talk of the boycott had taken a toll on fundraising. Because contributions slowed and many fundraisers were canceled, the USOC only raised $1.6 million during the first three months of 1980.

In total, the USOC was facing a $7 million budget shortfall during the 1976-1980 quad.

To recoup the cost and continue operation, the USOC would have to ask the federal government for a subsidy — one which surely would not be approved if the organization ignored Carter’s instructions. The government also had the ability to change the USOC ‘s tax-exempt status.

In addition, corporate businesses were beginning to pull funding in support of the president. Levi Strauss & Co., had planned to sponsor the Olympic Games and provide uniforms for stadium workers in Moscow. The company stopped the uniforms and pulled all television advertising during Olympic broadcasts. Sears, Roebuck & Co., was withholding a $25,000 contribution to the USOC pending the organization’s decision – and the company wasn’t the only one. According to Caraccioli, five other companies were holding onto their money, also.

1980 Olympic Boycott: USOC Decides to Forego Olympic Games

The USOC delegates were set to make a decision on April 10, 1980. That morning, Cater spoke at an American Society of News Editors conference, telling the group that he was prepared to take “legal action” to prevent American athletes from competing at the 1980 Olympic Games.

Because of all the pressure applied, it appeared that Carter had made the decision for the USOC.

The United States would boycott the 1980 Olympic Games, robbing many athletes of their only chance to compete at the multi-sport competition.

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