The Boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games and Detente

By Siekmann, Robert C. R. | The International Sports Law Journal, July-October 2011 | Go to article overview

The Boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games and Detente


Siekmann, Robert C. R., The International Sports Law Journal


1. Introduction

On 20 January, 1980, President Carter of the United States, in an address to the chairman of the American Olympic Committee (USOC), insisted that the Committee suggest to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow be transferred, postponed or cancelled, unless all Soviet troops had been withdrawn from Afghanistan within a month. He made it clear that if the IOC did not accept these proposals, the United States would not send a delegation to Moscow. The President explained: "We must make clear to the Soviet Union that it cannot trample upon an independent nation and at the same time do business as usual with the rest of the world". (1) Within a week the presidential request to USOC received support in resolutions of the American House of Representatives and the Senate, which voted with 386 votes in favour and 12 against, and 88 votes in favour and 4 against respectively, that no American athletes should participate in the Moscow Olympic Games unless the Soviet troops had been withdrawn from Afghanistan by 20 February, 1980. This American reaction to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan on 27December, 1979 marked the start of an international boycott against.the Moscow Olympic Games.

All this took place "under" the 1975 Final Act of Helsinki, which devotes one paragraph to international sporting contacts. The question which concerns us here is how a boycott such as that of the 1980Olympic Games can be assessed in the context of detente between East and West and under international law. When answering this question, we can distinguish two aspects: an inter-governmental aspect concerning the position of "politics" (assessment of the boycott in the light of the Final Act, paras. 2-5) and a nongovernmental aspect concerning the position of "sport" (assessment of the boycott in the light of the relation between "sport" and "politics" and in the light of the Olympic Charter, paras, 6-10).

2. Sport and the Final Act of Helsinki

The paragraph on sport can be found in the so-called "Third Basket" of the Final Act of Helsinki, which deals with cooperation in humanitarian and other fields under para. 1: Human contacts sub g (Sport). The provision reads as follows:

  "In order to expand existing links and co-operation in
  the field of sport the participating States will encourage
  contacts and exchanges of this kind, including sports meetings
  and competitions of all sorts, on the basis of the established
  international rules, regulations and practice". (2)

As indicated at the beginning of the "Third Basket", the co-operation referred to there should be encouraged by the States "irrespective of their political, economic and social systems" and "in full respect for the principles guiding relations among participating States as set forth in the relevant document"* This document can be found in the "First Basket" under (1): "Declaration on principles guiding relations between participating States", One of these ten principles, which together form the so-called "Decalogue", concerns Co-operation among States (principle IX). In this the participating States confirm that organizations should fulfil a relevant and positive role in the co-operation, inter alia, in the humanitarian field including human contacts in the field of sport.

On the basis of the "paragraph on sport" combined with the text of principle IX, it is possible to state:

1. that one of the objectives of the Final Act is to encourage detente through the co-operation between States, inter alia, in sporting activities;

2. that the States which signed the Final Act did not thereby agree to any strictly legal obligations (of public international law) with regard to sporting activities among themselves, not in the least because of the mere fact that the Final Act as a whole is not a treaty, but should be considered as a "legally non- binding agreement". …

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