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Inside the Games

The boycott becomes an Olympic albatross

On December 27, 1979 the USSR decided to invade Afghanistan to lend support to Babrak Karmal's coup d'Etat.

On July 19, 1980 the Soviet head of state, Leonid Brezhnev opened the Games of the 22nd Olympiad. In the end however, the Games were a full 60 countries short, from its initial list of invitees - all boycotting Moscow in protest at the Red Army invasion.

During this Cold War period, the United States were the first country to show their disdain. Washington made history by using the boycott as a reprisal measure.

The United States led by president Jimmy Carter were joined by Germany, led by chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and China, recent adherents to the IOC in November 1979.

Greece offered to host the Games instead of Moscow, but this proposition was not taken up by IOC president Lord Killanin, who tried to plug the gaps and play the mediator right up until the last moment.

Thus certain teams, if they so wished, were permitted to abstain from the opening ceremony, those who wanted to could line up behind the Olympic flag instead of their own national flag.

Also, at the medal ceremony, each country could raise the Olympic flag, and have the Olympic hymn played instead of the anthem of the winning country.

In this way, baron Pierre de Coubertin's legacy was allowed to live on through the events, while those taking part could avoid the boycott and at the same time, register a phantom protest.

Free choice for the French

Without doubt, the debate about the boycotting of the 1980 Olympic Games was paramount on the world's sports and political agenda.

The National Olympic Committee in Great Britain, although opposed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, decided to send a delegation.

On April 12, the American Olympic Committee (USOC) voted 60% in favour of a boycott, while 13 days later, Canada, Japan and South Korea also declined to compete.

With the Muslim countries, the feeling was almost identical - their decision to boycott was based on the belief that the Afghanistan invasion was a direct attack against Islam.

The leaders of numerous countries made the Olympics a political bargaining tool. It was not, therefore, surprising to see the Soviets reciprocating four years later - refusing to send a team to the Los Angeles Games.

Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.