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On This Date in Sports March 21, 1980

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One month after the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, President Jimmy Carter announces that the United States will not be participating in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, before a group of Olympic Athletes. The boycott by the United States was in response to the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan in December of 1979. The USA boycott would be joined by several other nations, including Canada, West Germany, and Japan.

The world of sports was invaded by politics in much the way the Soviets invaded Afghanistan on December 20, 1979. The idea of an Olympic boycott was first proposed by Soviet dissident in January. The idea of a boycott quickly gained popular support, with President Jimmy Carter giving Moscow an ultimatum to withdraw from Afghanistan by February 20th. Joe Clark, the Prime Minister of Canada, joined Carter’s call for a boycott, which had unanimous support in Congress.

Despite initial fears the Soviets may respond and pull out of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the games went on as scheduled. After the Winter Olympics ended, the United States continued to put pressure on the USSR and the International Olympic Committee, hoping the games themselves could be moved out of Moscow.

When a month passed since the initial deadline, the President felt he had no choice but to pull the United States out of the Summer Olympics. While several nations including, Canada, Japan, South Korea and West Germany joined the U.S. led the boycott, Carter was unable to convince Great Britain, France, and Australia to join in the boycott from participating in the games.

In the months leading up to the games, IOC President Lord Killanin tried to salvage to Moscow Games, as he met with both Jimmy Carter and Leonard Brezhnev, the Soviet General Secretary. However, the meetings proved to be unsuccessful. Killian proposed to allow athletes from boycotting nations to participate in the Olympics under a neutral flag. In response, President Carter threatened to revoke the passport of any U.S. Athlete that went to Moscow and participated in the games.

The Olympic Games took place between July 19th and August 3rd with just 80 nations participating, the smallest participation since 1956. Four years later, with the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the Soviet Union and 13 Eastern Bloc nations boycotted in response the United States boycotting the 1984 games.