On this day in 1980, President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will boycott the Olympic Games scheduled to take place in Moscow that summer. The announcement came after the Soviet Union failed to comply with Carter’s February 20, 1980, deadline to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
The Soviet military invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to reinforce the country’s communist regime against Islamic rebel forces. In a statement made after the invasion, Carter rebuked the Soviet Union, specifically Premier Leonid Brezhnev, and decried the invasion as a deliberate effort by a powerful atheistic government to subjugate an independent Islamic people that he called a stepping stone to [Soviet] control over [Afghanistan's] oil supplies.” Brezhnev dismissed Carter’s statements as bellicose and wicked. The invasion threatened to revive the Cold War, which, during the late 1970s, had appeared to undergo a temporary thaw. Carter said his opinion of the Russians has changed drastically since the beginning of his administration.
In addition to the boycott, Carter increased pressure on the Soviets to abandon the war in Afghanistan by issuing a trade embargo on two U.S. goods that the country desperately needed: grain and information technology. He also restricted Soviet fishing in American-controlled ocean waters. Carter called on the U.N. to provide military equipment, food and other assistance to help Afghanistan’s neighbors (especially Iran and Pakistan) fend off further Soviet encroachment.
Canada, West Germany and Japan joined the U.S. in boycotting the games; Carter failed to convince Great Britain, France, Greece and Australia to also observe the boycott. When an international coalition suggested that the boycotting nations send athletes to compete under a neutral Olympic banner, Carter threatened to revoke the passport of any U.S. athlete who attempted to do so. His decision affected not only athletes, but the profits of corporate advertisers and broadcasting powerhouses like NBC.
Reaction to Carter’s decision was mixed. Many Americans pitied the athletes who had worked so hard toward their goal of competing in the Olympics and who might not qualify to compete in the next games in 1984. At the same time, the boycott symbolized commitment many Americans felt to fighting the oppressive, anti-democratic Soviet regime.
In retaliation for Carter’s action, the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles.