(Editor’s Note: This post received commendation in the Comrade’s Corner)
In 1980, Moscow was set to host the Summer Olympics. This opportunity had been granted to the Soviet Union in 1974 by the International Olympic Committee, and “represented an unparalleled opportunity to showcase the superiority of Soviet athletes as well as the achievements of Soviet socialism before a world-wide audience” (Siegelbaum). This was a chance for the Soviet Union to demonstrate its strong sense of national pride and to remain in the international spotlight.
As most countries (past and present) do before hosting the Olympics, the USSR went to extraordinary means to prepare for the Games. The country was bustling with new construction projects and beautification efforts, resulting in freshly-paved roads, stadiums, hotels, training buildings, newly-planted trees, and murals around the city. Flags, in addition to many of the city’s murals, featured ““Misha,” the cuddly bear who was the mascot of these Olympics, festooned the boulevards” (Siegelbaum). In addition to the construction jobs, many jobs were created as interpreters and translators, security guards, and tour guides. These jobs were highly competitive and sought-after.
As early as October 1978, “Soviet media was authorized to crank out publicity about the games to counteract negative propaganda from the West” (Siegelbaum). This was big, because many Western countries, including the United States, were already considering boycotting the Moscow Games. The Soviet Union released a plethora of publicity promoting the events and condemning the Western boycott. Articles found throughout the Current Digest of the Russian Press offer a wide range of Soviet opinions on this subject, from pre-Olympics to post-Olympics.
Another article, featured on the Seventeen Moments page, is particularly interesting. This article directly points out that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “unanimously chose Moscow as the site for the Summer Olympics in 1974. In accordance with that decision, representatives of the IOC and the Soviet Olympic Committee assumed a number of obligations. Recently an IOC session reaffirmed the decision to hold the Olympic Games in Moscow. And they will take place on schedule, in spite of the scheming of enemies of the Olympic movement” (Pravada). The ‘scheming of enemies of the Olympic movement’ obviously refers to the United States, among other actors, as the article goes on to point out. It emphasizes how Washington D.C. is using “division, disunity and tension” (Pravada) to discourage other countries from participating in the Games. I found this discussion interesting and very typical of Soviet media, yet it was still unique in that it pointed fingers directly at President Carter and reaffirmed that the IOC was on the Soviet side.
Ultimately, regardless of all the bad press they received in the Soviet Union, the “United States and 55 other nations decided to boycott the games in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979″ (Siegelbaum). No matter, though: millions of Soviets still attended the Olympic events: “In all, 5.2 million tickets were sold of which 3.9 million were purchased by Soviet citizens. The boycott thus failed to cast a pall over the 1980 Olympics, although it did deepen the atmosphere of Cold War. Four years later, the Los Angeles Summer Olympics were boycotted by the Soviet Union and most other Communist nations of eastern Europe, ostensibly for security reasons” (Siegelbaum).
Pravda Editorial, (Editorial)-The Price Of Ambition. March 18, 1980. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1980pravda2&SubjectID=1980olympics&Year=1980
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Moscow Olympics.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1980olympics&Year=1980&navi=byYear
The Current Digest of the Russian Press, No. 30, Vol.32, August 27, 1980, page(s): 5-6. http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13626705
The Current Digest of the Russian Press, No. 21, Vol.32, June 25, 1980, page(s): 5-5. http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13626507
The Current Digest of the Russian Press, No. 21, Vol.32, June 25, 1980, page(s): 6-6 http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13626534
Interesting post! I didn’t realize how many countries boycotted the 1980 Olympics in response to foreign policy choices by the Soviet Union.
Very informative post. I did not know much about the 1980 Olympics besides the fact that the U.S. boycotted it. I also wonder what the economic consequences of putting on such an expensive venue during the middle of what would end up being a very long occupation of Afghanistan, and if these costs had anything to do with the fall of the Soviet Union 11 years later.
I was going to say exactly what Steve asked. It seems a constant theme towards the last two decades of the Soviet Union was to spend spend spend. For a country that still had a pretty poor overall population, standards of living, and a vast many other internal and external issues, taking on the Olympics, a war, and finishing a 100 year old railroad seem like a path to disaster, no matter how financially secure your country is.
This was a really informative post. It was interesting to learn how many countries boycotted the 1980 Olympics as other people have commented on. I also agree with Steven and Jimmy said about the economy and the occupation of Afghanistan.
I knew that the US had boycotted the 1980’s Olympics, but I didn’t realize how many other countries did as well. After reading some of the other comments, I completely agree with their questions about the great expense of putting on such an event when in the middle of an invasion and under a long standing pressure of steady economic stagnation. It seems that the Soviet Union continued to dig themselves a hole. Perhaps they thought that the Olympic games might bring a sense of legitimacy to them in the eyes of other world powers and bring trade, or simply they expected to recoup their spending from the tourism and other revenue of the games.
Really interesting post. I was also surprised by the amount of countries that boycotted the 1980 Olympics. I shouldn’t be suprised by now that even the Olympics was involved in the propaganda war between the US and the Soviet Union.
As a lot of the others said, I am surprised that there were many other countries other than the US that boycotted the Olympics. Also, don’t forget that Afghanistan was going on at the same time. There was a lot of talk about the Russian Olympics in “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
I wonder if the boycott of the games by the United States and the 55 other countries was counterproductive. With the Cold War in full-swing, and anti-West propaganda abundant, could the Soviets have viewed the lack of United States as a victory, believing they had scared us away or intimidated us?
Like everyone else, I didn’t realize how many other countries also boycotted these olympic games. I wonder if Russia was able to make enough money back in sales from all of their beautification efforts to prepare for the games? I also wonder how the public felt about the games being held there and the changes being made to prepare. Was it hurting their economy and making the publics livelihood more difficult?
It’s a bit of a shame, I think, that so many countries opted to boycott the Olympics, as it sort of goes against the spirit of the event. At the same time, I can understand why it would look strange to condemn a country and then send your athletes their to help boost their economy.