1980 Summer Olympics boycott echoes today

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      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.



      Barry D

      Feb 11, 2010 at 1:41am

      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.

      Dan Maitland

      Feb 11, 2010 at 7:59am

      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?


      Feb 11, 2010 at 9:50am

      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.

      Douglas Craven

      Feb 11, 2010 at 12:44pm

      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.


      Feb 11, 2010 at 1:08pm

      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.


      Feb 11, 2010 at 3:08pm

      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!


      Feb 11, 2010 at 4:28pm

      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.


      Feb 11, 2010 at 4:47pm

      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.


      Feb 11, 2010 at 6:31pm

      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


      Feb 11, 2010 at 9:02pm

      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.