1980 Summer Olympics boycott echoes today

The 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow were boycotted in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Then–U.S. president Jimmy Carter announced the boycott in February 1980, and Canada and dozens of other countries soon followed suit. In his state of the union address that year, Carter made the case against the Soviet war:

“The vast majority of nations on Earth have condemned this latest Soviet attempt to extend its colonial domination of others and have demanded the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops. The Muslim world is especially and justifiably outraged by this aggression against an Islamic people. No action of a world power has ever been so quickly and so overwhelmingly condemned. But verbal condemnation is not enough. The Soviet Union must pay a concrete price for their aggression.”

Part of the price the U.S. and its allies imposed was the Olympic boycott, which was explained as a protest in support of Afghanistan’s right to self-determination and independence, which the Soviets had egregiously violated when their tanks rolled across the border in December 1979. A decade of Soviet occupation resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and the displacement of millions.

Of course, the U.S. was not a neutral observer in that conflict. According to a 1998 interview with French newsmagazine the Nouvel Observateur, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was then Carter’s national security adviser, boasted that they helped lure the Soviets into invading. For years, they armed and helped finance the anti-Soviet armed resistance, tending to favour the most ruthless and extremist elements of the insurgency—the fundamentalists who still plague Afghan political life.

Many of Canada’s athletes were bitterly disappointed in 1980, but our country’s authorities assured them that the rights of the people of Afghanistan were worth the sacrifice of their athletic ambitions.

Thirty years later, it is the United States, Canada, and the other NATO countries that are occupying Afghanistan. Instead of a boycott, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics are being used to promote militarism in general and Canada’s role in the occupation of Afghanistan in particular. Who will make these invading countries “pay a concrete price for their aggression”?

For instance, a disproportionate number of Canadian Forces members, 200, and their families were to participate in the torch relay, whose route involved 14 military bases. It is widely expected that the opening ceremonies will tout Canada’s role with NATO in Afghanistan.

Long before the disastrous Soviet occupation in the 1980s, the old British Empire tried and failed three times to subdue the Afghans before finally withdrawing its armies. As Afghan dissident member of parliament Malalai Joya has pointed out on her visits to Canada, “The Afghan people want peace, and history teaches that we always reject occupation and foreign domination.”

Alas, today’s war is evidence that the lessons of this history go unlearned or unheeded. Once again countless Afghan lives, as well as the lives of NATO soldiers, have been sacrificed in vain.

The Canadian government claims to support the call for an “Olympic truce”, yet in Afghanistan aerial bombings, night raids, and other forms of collective punishment will continue each day of the Games. The Olympics Charter states that the Games seek to “promote peace”, with the goal of “encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”. And yet the Canadian government is using the Games to promote its warmaking.

Stephen Harper claims to promote democracy abroad, yet he has prorogued Parliament—suspending the basic functioning of Canada’s democratic institutions—in order to avoid scrutiny over Canada’s complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees.

Indeed, just like in Moscow in 1980, the host governments of the 2010 Olympics have curtailed free speech and restricted civil liberties, and the Canadian government is participating in an illegal and destructive invasion of Afghanistan—and it will do its best not to draw attention to this bit of Olympic history.

Let’s hope that the media gives some airtime to this historical parallel, lest the Games become just another prime-time venue to uncritically tout Canada’s military engagements abroad.


Derrick O’Keefe is the cochair of the Canadian Peace Alliance.

Comments (16) Add New Comment
Barry D
Will NBC report on this Olympic anniversary? Will the CBC? It's good to see this connection being made, as I haven't heard of any other media raising this issue.
Rating: -10
Dan Maitland
It is very fitting that the Nazi Olympic torch relay tradition be upheld by a nation at war and engaged in the military occupation of Afghanistan in collaboration with a venal regime of war lords and drug dealers, as well as, by a nation providing support for the military occupation of Iraq and Palestine. That the games take place on occupied indigenous lands makes it all the more fitting. In 1980 the Conservative party called the military occupation of Afghanistan "international terrorism". Is it not so now given the past and probable continued consequences of our military actions in Afghanistan?
Rating: +19
Hockey Night in Canada has for a long time been a massive ad for the military and for the war. I'm afraid this will just be exponentially worse during the Olympics.

The Pat Tillman story is worth remembering. He was an NFL star who quit to go fight in Afghanistan, only to be killed by friendly fire and have the military lie and cover-up the facts of his death. What a shame that sports and jingoism go together so easily.
Rating: 0
Douglas Craven
Afghanistan is a war for warlords -- so what else is new? The Olympics has always been used to promote the host countries' military adventures abroad. Or, in the case of the 1936 Hitler Olympics, to use the Torch Relay to put Europe to sleep so they could prepare for war.
Rating: 0
When will Canada realize that the war in Afghanistan is for the immediate gains of the US and Great Britain - particularly the control of the opiates trade. Oh right, Canada is being fuct from behind by the US over and over and over again. Gotta love this.
Rating: -14
I'm afraid this will barely get a mention on NBC or CTV, even though they will have Generals and politicians at countless ceremonial faceoffs. Bring the troops home!
Rating: -12
Spectator sports are a primary tool for promoting state sanctioned aggressive violence, distracting the populace from the crimes of the government and their buddies - the corporations, and promoting the jingoistic propaganda which rationalises government war crimes. Also, spectator sports help to dumb people down, so they can't comprehend the meaning of world events and politics or think independently. Furthermore it promotes the "matrix" existence where people gratify their psychological needs vicariously through simulated or imaginary experiences. Thus spectator sports, like action and war movies, fulfils the need that many have to experience the thrill of competition and skillful combat - thereby avoiding the messy business of people actually challenging the politicians and other dishonest, corrupt, and sociopathic authorities in real life.
Rating: +7
In fact Pat Tillman was coming to an anti-war viewpoint before he was killed. He was even emailing Noam Chomsky, according to the new book about the former NFLer's short life.
Too bad no NHL these days is outspoken against the war. They are all well trained not to say anything about anything by their agents.
Rating: +2
Huh? Besides having Canada and the USSR both having troops in Afghanistan wheres the connection. nd anyone who is honestly comparing imprisoning crackhead hobos so they don't' hassle tourists to the level repression in the USSR is either an utter moron or completely dishonest. Also simply calling the Afghan war illegal doesn't make it so; especially when it has had UN approval from the get go which supersedes anything else in international law
Rating: +6
The United States invaded Afghanistan without United Nations Security Council approval, which makes it an act of international aggression - the supreme crime under international law. After decapitating its government and destroying its essential infrastructure, the United States' act of international terrorism precipitated a serious humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Security Council on Dec 20, 2001 , passed it last resolution concerning Aghanistan, Resolution 1386 (2001) - authorizing the deployment for six months of an International Security Force For Afghanistan to assist the Northern Alliance to implement a new government. There is no legal basis for Canada's participation in a protracted war to root out the Taleban and prop up the drug dealing, warlord Northern Alliance. This act of massive violence to interfere in the internal political affairs of a sovereign nation, in an effort to prop up a corporate compliant puppet regime, is a textbook case of state terrorism.
Rating: -9
Lawrence Boxall
The ironies and the hypocrisies abound. An excellent connection you picked up on here.
Rating: +10
did anybody notice when the opening ceremonies showed troops in afghanistan, they weren't wearing combat garb as usual? they were all chilling out in sweaters and ski lodge wear.

contrast that with the recent superbowl when the excited states showed their military watching the game in full gear heroically fighting the evil bad guys.

in canada we don't want you to know there's a war. the longer you don't pay attention, the more money we can make killing enemies of the US and their global corporations.
Rating: +1
Imtiaz Popat
U.S. Marines spearheaded one of NATO's biggest offensives against the Taliban in Afghanistan yesturday. This in the face of the so called olympic true that is supposed to be observed during any olympic games.

So what is they olympic legacy? If it not promoting good will and understanding, then what is it promting?
Rating: -7
Chris Muldoon
SHAME!!!!! Shame on all of you that would put our military in this light. You really think what's going on in Afghanistan today is the same as it was in 1980. How ignorant do you have to be??? Don't try and paralell them with weak so called facts as i have written a thesis on the conflict in 1980. Would you tell this to a young girl waiting for her dad to come back, would you call her father a terrorist??? do you not have anything better to do. These games will pump much needed money into the province of British Columbia and into Canada itself. Youwould boycott the olympics and other financially sound prgrams in this country and for what? so john taliban can continue to flood our streets with drugs and chaos. You would tell a little girl in Afghanistan that we were leaving because it's not fair to push around terrorists and drug lords. you would tell her that she now has to go back to living in fear simply because she is an afghan women? You are the terrorists, you are the ones that try and take the good out of everything! You are the ones that will eventually ruin our society. You are the ones that will complain when all the government help dries up. Fuck you for hating my country, and you do whether you admit it or not. and shame on you for speaking against the very men and women that on a moments notice would lay down their lives to protect yours. SHAME
Rating: +11
Sorry, Chris, but you have all the facts reversed. The Northern Alliance that the US installed into government in Afghanistan after their massive act of state terrorism by invading the country ARE the warlords and drug lords, and are more vicious even than the Taleban, and have no respect whatsoever for women's rights. The Taleban wiped out the poppy crop, and the US military and their compliant puppet regime had a bumper crop the next year after they arrived, and continue to set new records every year subsequently, as the international troops guard the tanker trucks, processing plants, and supply routes that keep over 90% of the worlds heroin coming steadily out of Afghanistan, to fill the coffers of the CIA, US military profiteers, and U.S. eastern banking system.
Canada isn't in Afghanistan to help anyone's human rights. If they were, then they wouldn't turn 600 Afghani captives over to the Afghani intelligence to be tortured, some to death. And they would be supplying medical supplies, training, and facilities to reduce the 20% infant mortality rate in Afghanistan, which would cost a miniscule percentage of the cost of murdering Afghanis, capturing them, and turning them over to be tortured - the current priority, along with guarding the poppy fields and heroin shipments.
Even if our neocon government cared about human rights, which they don't even one iota, then invasion and occupation are not the legally sanctioned and appropriate ways to bolster human rights, unless sanctioned by the UN Security Council. Why isn't Canada invading Burma, China, Russia, Mexico, and dozens of other countries that torture their citizens and commit innumerable other heinous acts?
The Olympics aren't adding to the BC economy, they are sucking many billions of dollars out of it - to be paid for by the taxpayers for decades to come.
Rating: +13
SHAME!!!!!, shame on you Chris for allowing yourself to become so utterly brainwashed that you can't even discern fact from fiction. Turn off your TV and start learning what is really going on in this world!
Rating: -11
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