Give It All You Got

The 1980 Summer Olympics!

This international sporting event presented an opportunity for the Soviet Union to boast their nation’s capabilities on a world wide platform. However, these Olympic games quickly became a symbol for both international turmoil and politics.

Following the Soviet Union’s invasion into Afghanistan in 1979, Gorbachev and his regime supported Babrak Kamal in hopes to overthrow the President in power, Nur Mohammad Taraki. The invasion was in pursuit of defeating the American backed mujahideen fighters, assisting a staged coup that would place a Soviet loyalist in power. This ultimately led to a decade long battle. As a result, the United Nations placed sanctions on the Soviet Union. The United States led the campaign for this decision as retaliation for the invasion.

Fast forward a year later- the lingering effects of the invasion dramatically impact the 1980 Summer Olympics, hosted by the Soviet Union in Moscow. Over 60 countries boycotted this event!  This included Britain, France, Italy and Sweden. As a result, a multitude of changes ensued in the Soviet Union.

Soviet media began disseminating propaganda that went against the western narrative of the situation-specifically the invasion as well as the remodeling and construction of Moscow. In a politically intense climate, the city faced “a frenzy of construction” including new stadiums, roads, and even an airport. As the world turned away from the Soviet Union, I would like to highlight how this initiated a period of intense Soviet nationalism and pride. For the Moscow Olympics “5.2 million tickets were sold of which 3.9 million were purchased by Soviet citizens.” This bolstered Soviet pride and ultimately increased the rift between the West and Soviet perception.  

At the Olympic games, the Soviet Union teams pushed on. A majority of medals were awarded to the host nation. Over 200 events were held, more than any previous games. Soviet athletes like Alexander Dityatin and  Nikolai Andrianov were amongst the top performers, excelling in the gymnastic portion, bringing home gold medals. Regardless of the underlying political climate surrounding Gorbachev’s administration, there was a successful push in getting Moscow ready for the Olympics and letting the show go on.

Questions for your consideration:

If not for the invasion, would there have been unwavering support for the Olympics? After all, the Soviet Union’s ideals and policies do not align with most Western nations. The invasion was a powder keg to a much deeper political rift and issue.

Should the Olympic Games transcend politics? Over the years many nations, with questionable leaders and political climates have participated and hosted. Where do we draw the line to what we considered acceptable and within reason? If it really is all about the spirit of the games, should politics matter at all?

For Reference below is President Carter’s boycott speech for the Olympics!

Sidenote: Here is a really cool video of the theme song for the 1980 Olympics. (Hence the title). Hope you all enjoy!


4 thoughts on “Give It All You Got”

  1. Mame, good job analyzing the Olympic boycott! The questions you asked at the end of your post really got at a lot of the major tensions involved with this moment.

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    1. Thank you! The intent of these questions was really there to do just that. I wanted to highlight the tensions in this era and really have people thinking about the dynamic issues that this really was?

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  2. Hey Mame! Good post! Regarding one of your ending questions- while I think the games should be about more than politics and not involve such complex matters, it’s impossible to forget and ignore. I can’t help but think of what I’ve seen in the news when I watch the Olympics. More recently North Korea’s participation mirrors slightly the complicated nature that surrounded the USSR. I am disturbed thinking about how they can mistreat their people and still try to fool the world. It’s almost as if you can see the mistreatment even in their sports- their idea of olympic spirit is far from that of other nations.

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  3. Thank You! I agree with your statement that some things just can’t be ignored. The Olympics has been a platform for a variety of countries to make statements in regard to international issues. Do you think there should be a boundary drawn though, so athletes can be able to prove there hard work free of politics?

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