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Inside the Games

The first widespread boycott

In the period leading up to the Games, the organisers in Montreal were faced with a number of dilemmas.

Finance was a problem right up to the last minute due to the rising costs of equipping the city for the numerous events.

There was also political opposition to the Games - with Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau coming under consistent fire. But the situation most in need of handling with kid gloves was the boycott of almost all of the African nations.

On July 17, the Olympic stadium was set for the opening ceremony. Africa, however, was preparing its own major event.

Through Tanzanian Julius Nyerere, Africa gave an early indication, July 3, of its feelings on the situation involving South Africa and New Zealand.

In short, the African nations wanted New Zealand to be excluded from the Games for having conducted an earlier rugby tour in the state that had been excluded from the IOC since prior to the 1964 Games due to its apartheid policies.

The IOC was baffled by this request since rugby was not an Olympic sport, and therefore, non-dependent on the IOC. Also, South Africa's exclusion had been enforced for more than 20 years, while many of the countries threatening to boycott had less-than-favourable governing reputations themselves.

Packing time for 22 countries

On July 15, sixteen national committees officially registered their protest and accompanying desire to see New Zealand thrown out. The IOC refused. Eventually, 22 countries decided to leave the Canadian city two days later, shortly after the official opening ceremony.

Only Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire remained in Montreal, with the huge exodus turning to farce since Egypt, Cameroon, Morocco and Tunisia had already participated in the first events (held just before the opening ceremony) without having properly settled in the Olympic village.

Incidentally, another politically-sensitive affair erupted only days before the start of the Games.

Canada, who did not officially recognise Taiwan, refused entry to the delegation of Taiwanese athletes. Under pressure from the IOC, the Canadian government eventually allowed the athletes to take part - but with the condition that they did so under the name and flag of the Republic of China. The Asians refused and remained in Taiwan.

This first widespread boycott would certainly not be the last to make its presence known at the Olympics - and preceded others in 1980 and 1984. Despite all efforts to the contrary, the leaders of the largest nations made use of the Games for their own political means, hijacking sport and the Olympic ideal and leaving baron Pierre de Coubertin's dream in tatters.

Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.