Thirty-seven years ago, on May 8, 1984, the Soviet Union announced it would not participate in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles that summer. Following suit, East Germany and Bulgaria announced that they would also not be sending teams to the Games, with similar statements made by other Soviet satellite countries. Other countries that boycotted the 1984 Games included Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Cuba, South Yemen, North Korea, Ethiopia, Angola, Iran, Albania, Libya, Afghanistan, Laos, Vietnam and Mongolia.
In a statement, the Soviet National Olympic Committee cited “the gross flouting” of Olympic ideals by the United States, and underscored that plans by groups to stage anti-Soviet demonstrations during the Games and the American refusal to ban such protests as contributing factors in the decision to boycott. The Soviets claimed that the move was not a boycott in retaliation of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Observers noted that the Soviet move also aimed to embarrass the Reagan administration in an attempt to hurt President Ronald Reagan’s chances for re-election. Analysts said the Soviet move aimed to punish Washington, not only for the 1980 boycott, but also for wider disputes between the two countries over nuclear weapons and other issues.
The Reagan administration called the Soviet action a “blatant political action for which there was no real justification.” Sen. Alan Cranston (D – Calif.), who was a regular critic of the administration, did not blame the Reagan administration for causing the Soviet protest.
The Soviet press commented that Mr. Reagan and his advisors hoped to use the Games to foster support in the election in which the Kremlin strongly favored a Democratic Party victory.
Official Soviet statements mocked the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics, but observers noted that the U.S. move seriously undermined the efforts that the Kremlin had mounted in playing host for the Games and considerably weakened competition in many sports, creating deep resentments.
The Soviets also expressed concerns about its athletes and citizens defecting while in the U.S. In 1984, only one Soviet citizen had defected since the USSR had entered the Olympics in 1952 – and later he voluntarily returned to the USSR.
The Ban the Soviets coalition, among other citizens’ groups, publicly stated that they planned to encourage defections among Soviet and East European athletes. The coalition, which was formed after the Soviets shot down an unarmed Korean airliner (KAL 700) in the fall of 1983 and was made up of a number of émigré and ethnic groups, said it had as many as 500 “safe houses” around Los Angeles in which to harbor possible defectors.
A Soviet journalist in London was quoted as saying that plans were already under way to stage an athletic meet called the “Friendship Games” for Soviet-bloc countries, which indicated that the Soviets had planned long in advance to pull out of the 1984 Games.
This year, the Biden administration has been increasingly receiving calls for the U.S. to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, citing China’s record of human rights violations. China won the nomination as host of the 2022 Games in 2015, when it began to detain journalists, as well as harass and attack activists and dissidents even beyond China’s borders. The genocidal actions that China has reportedly taken against its Uyghur Muslim population is another major contributing factor, with more than 180 human rights organizations calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Source: “Soviets quit Olympic Games,” The Ukrainian Weekly, May 13, 1984.