A history of countries boycotting the Olympic Games
So, let’s make sure we know exactly what a boycott is? A nice definition is, a boycott is an act of nonviolent, voluntary and intentional abstention from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for moral, social, political, or environmental reasons. The purpose of a boycott is to inflict some economic loss on the target, or to indicate a moral outrage, to try to compel the target to alter an objectionable behavior.
The word is named after Captain Charles Boycott, who was an agent of an absentee landlord in Ireland. Charles Boycott was evicting tenants who couldn’t afford their rent, rather than use violence in their protest against his behaviour, all the other tenants from local farms tried a different tactic and everyone stopped work in the fields and stables, as well as in his house. Charles Boycott soon found himself isolated, local businessmen stopped trading with him, and the local postman even refused to deliver his mail.
The story was reported in local and international press and the name Boycott very quickly became a verb.
The Olympic games have been a stage for controversy since their restart in 1896. The political world has changed significantly over time and regimes have used the Olympics to their means to make statements. The International Olympic Committee, which runs the games, has said it must stay “neutral on all global political issues,” I kind of agree with what they say because this world is very very complicated and now there are definitely 2 sides to every story and in this day and age of fake news, who knows what to believe! There have been some questionable awardings of summer and winter games to locations that at a quick glance seem less than worthy, maybe this is down to that neutrality of the awarding committee and absolutely nothing to do with the hospitality or generousness of the potential hosts.
There has only been one country that has truly attended all the modern games and had their own nations flag flown and that is Greece, they are also the first team in the Olympic opening ceremony and the parade of the nations. Other nations that have had representatives at every games such as Great Britain, Australia and France but at times, these have been in joint teams and not as sole nations. Switzerland have participated in all the games but in 1956 they started the games before then going on to boycott them!
Some countries (such as the Vatican City) have on the other hand, been eligible to enter but have never competed in an Olympics.
In the early modern Olympics we might have seen just 37 countries compete as we did in the tenth Olympiad hosted in 1932 by Los Angeles. The Games were held during the worldwide Great Depression and many nations did not travel. Even the U.S. President Herbert Hoover missed the Games.
Over the years, other nations didn’t participate in the Olympics because they didn’t have Olympic federations, couldn’t afford to or weren’t able to travel due to distance, logistics and time. Some countries missed the Olympics due to administrative errors and unfortunately, Brunei didn’t compete in the 2008 Beijing games because they missed the registration deadline for their athletes.
Athletes themselves have used the Olympics as a stage to protest all sorts of issues and that in itself is an excellent idea for a film which I will make when I have time. The IOC themselves have been subject to criticism for the awarding of games and the lack of enforcement of their own principles, once again great content for a film. This film however is concentrating on the boycotting of the Olympics by nations for a range of mainly political reasons.
The first boycott of the Olympics was in the 1936 Berlin Games, numerous countries were not happy with Hitler and his well documented antics and threatened to boycott the games, Spain had entered a team but withdrew because of their Civil war. Ultimately though, the only country to boycott were the Soviet Union. The reason for their boycott was that all things that were seen as tools of capitalism were renounced and this included competitive sports. It wouldn’t be until 1952 that the Soviet Union first participated in the Olympics
The 1956 Olympics in Melbourne were affected by a number of boycotts. Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon announced they would not participate in the Games in response to the Suez Crisis when Egypt was invaded by Israel, Britain and France this was after Egypt had nationalised the Suez canal. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution, leading to the withdrawal of the Netherlands, Cambodia, Spain, and Switzerland. Less than two weeks before the Opening Ceremony, the People’s Republic of China chose to boycott the event because Taiwan, had been allowed to compete as a nation,and of course China claimed Taiwan as part of its territory. China did not compete in the Olympics again until Los Angeles 1984.
The 1964 Tokyo games had three boycotting nations. North Korea, China and Indonesia boycotted the Games after the International Olympic Committee refused to allow athletes who competed in the rival Games of the New Emerging Forces in Jakarta the year before in 1963 to participate.
The International Olympic Committee suspended Indonesia from all IOC events such as the Winter and Summer Olympics for organising the rival games. This was the very first time the IOC had chosen to directly enforce a suspension to a nation. This suspension was handed out in 1963 but they were readmitted as a nation in time for the 64 games before they then themselves boycotted them! We have more recently seen Russia suspended from the Olympics because of their state sanctioned doping.
South Africa was not invited to the 1964 games, and its invitation to the 1968 games was withdrawn when numerous other teams threatened to withdraw. South Africa was not permitted to return to the Olympics until the 1992 games in Barcelona.
Rhodesia was prevented from entering when its invitation to the 1972 Summer Olympics was withdrawn by the International Olympic Committee, following protests by other African countries about the racism in the country.
Things stepped up a notch in Montreal 1976 when a total of 29, mainly African countries, boycotted the Games after the IOC refused to ban New Zealand, whose rugby team had toured apartheid South Africa that same year.
Somewhat ironically after what had happened in 1956, Taiwan withdrew because Canada did not allow them to compete as the Republic of China and also the Republic of China were boycotting the games anyway!
- Central African Republic
- Republic of China
- Sri Lanka
- Upper Volta
In 1980, the United States led a boycott of the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow to protest the Soviet Unions 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. In total, 66 nations refused to participate in the games. That is about a third of the total nations in the world!
- Albania (no reason given)
- Antigua and Barbuda
- British Honduras
- Cayman Islands
- Central African Republic
- El Salvador
- Hong Kong
- Ivory Coast
- South Korea
- Netherlands Antilles
- Papua New Guinea
- Saudi Arabia
- Chinese Taipei / Taiwan (protesting the Nagoya Resolution designating it as “Chinese Taipei”)
- United Arab Emirates
- United States
- United States Virgin Islands
- West Germany
The USSR, whose 1980 Moscow games had been significantly affected by the U.S. led boycott, were able to get their revenge by boycotting the 1984 games in Los Angeles. Iran had earlier decided to boycott the 1984 Summer Olympics because of “United States interference in the Middle East and its support for the regime occupying Jerusalem, Libya also boycotted the Olympics after Libyan journalists were refused entry into the United States. A total of 18 nations boycotted LA in 1984.
- Soviet Union
- East Germany
- South Yemen
- North Korea
Compared to the 1980 Moscow games and the 1984 Los Angeles games, which were divided into two camps by ideology, the 24th Olympiad hosted in 1988 by Seoul was a competition in which the boycotts virtually disappeared, although they were not completely over. North Korea boycotted these games because North and South Korea are still technically at war. Some of their socialist friends including Cuba, Albania and Ethiopia also supported them in the boycott. The Seychelles did not respond to the invitation sent by the IOC.
Nicaragua did not participate due to financial considerations and the participation of Madagascar had been expected, and their team was even scheduled into the opening ceremony of 160 nations; however, the country withdrew for financial reasons
- Ethiopia (did not respond to invitation)
- Nicaragua (financial)
- Madagascar (financial)
- Albania (did not respond to invitation)
- North Korea
- Seychelles (did not respond to invitation)
The 1992 Barcelona games with more than 9,300 athletes representing 169 countries were for the first time in three decades, a games with no boycott
Since then, there has been no official boycott of the games, there have been nations not have any participants and therefore not attend. North Korea decided against sending a team to Tokyo 2020 /2021 because of Covid concerns.
Let’s wait and see what happens in a few years time when Paris host the games in 2024. France is at the moment a country under scrutiny because of its foreign policy and did you know who is hosting the 2028 games? It is the US, with LA hosting its third games. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a new boycott in the offing.