After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979 and subsequent human rights violations, U.S. President Jimmy Carter called for a boycott of the Olympic Games Moscow 1980 with the mistaken hope that this drastic measure would force the Soviets to withdraw their troops. After months of meetings between the White House and the U.S. Olympic Committee, the USOC House of Delegates met on April 12, 1980, in Colorado Springs. The USOC voted 1,604 to 797 to support president Jimmy Carter and boycott the Games.
The decision to withdraw from the Games in Moscow left 470 U.S. athletes heartbroken, shattered and silenced. In an effort to vigorously oppose the boycott, athletes rallied to fight the decision through petitions, press interviews and meetings, but ultimately could not change the course of history.
A generation of the country's most elite athletes, who had dedicated their lives to the pursuit of competitive excellence, were robbed of their chance to represent the United States at the Olympic Games.
In addition, sixty-four additional countries also boycotted the 1980 Games, impacting thousands of athletes in total whose dreams were also denied by the political interference of their governments.
For many athletes of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, the Games in Moscow was their only opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and be recognized as an Olympian. Athletes returned to their communities and were forced to make hard decisions about their futures. Their lifelong goals, careers and dreams were forever altered.
Some were able to dedicate another four or eight years to their athletic pursuits, while others were not. Athletes from 1980 team went on to become philanthropists, doctors, service members, scientists, public servants and community leaders, others went on to inspire the next generation as teachers, coaches and volunteers. Regardless of if career continued on the field of play or off, all deserve recognition and gratitude for their achievements, their sacrifice and their legacy.
The 1980 Games serve as a clear lesson to all global citizens that boycotts have no place in the Olympic Games. Scholars and politicians have agreed that the 1980 boycott did nothing to change the political landscape or deter Russia from actions in Afghanistan. The only thing it accomplished was undermining the dreams of hundreds of American athletes.
America’s athletes – and the world’s athletes – deserve better.
The Olympic Games in ancient Greece were founded with the intent to break the cycle of conflict at the time and the Games continue to serve as a beacon of hope today. The Games in 1980 could have been the pivotal, unifying moment the world needed at that time – but unfortunately serve as an opportunity denied to athletes and opportunity missed for the world to celebrate the power of sport to unite.
We pay tribute to the 470 athletes of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team by honoring their legacy.