On January 20, 1980, in a letter to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and a television interview, U.S. President Jimmy Carter proposes that the 1980 Summer Olympics be moved from the planned host city, Moscow, if the Soviet Union failed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan within a month.
“It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is,” Carter declared. He argued that continued aggressive action by the Soviets would endanger athletes and spectators who traveled to Moscow for the games, and declared that if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declined to move the competition, American athletes should boycott the games. Lord Killanin, president of the IOC, reacted quickly to Carter’s statement, saying it was impossible to move the games from Moscow.
After the IOC denied Carter’s request, the USOC later voted to boycott the Moscow games, a decision that Carter announced on March 21, 1980. The boycott devastated the hopes of many U.S. athletes, especially after Carter backed it up with the law, promising to revoke the passports of American athletes who traveled to the games in violation of the boycott. For his part, Killanin called the U.S. boycott a violation of the Olympic charter, pointing out that Moscow had been awarded the games in the mid-1970s as part of a binding contract–one that could only be broken if the Soviets breached their own responsibilities first.
The United States was one of some 60 countries that eventually boycotted the Moscow Olympics, though some countries that didn’t officially send teams took no action against individual athletes who chose to go. Among U.S. allies, Great Britain, Sweden, France and Italy sent teams. The Soviet Union dominated the other 80 participating nations, winning 195 medals (80 gold) in 1980, in one of the most lopsided Olympics ever. Four years later, the Soviets returned the slight with a boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, saying they were worried about the safety of their athletes given the strongly anti-Communist environment that existed in the United States. In an interesting contrast, Communist-led China decided to attend the games for the first time in 32 years, bringing the total number of participating countries to a record high 140.