40 years ago, the Cold War shifted to the sports political stage. Numerous nations stayed away from the summer games.
The Olympic Games were opened in Moscow on July 19, 1980. They were marked by the boycott initiated by the USA in many countries. Riders, fencers, shooters and gymnasts were missing from Switzerland. Their associations had spoken out against participation.
It was not the first time in the history of the Olympic Games that sport fell victim to political intrigue. Never before has a sporting event thrown waves as high as the games in Moscow.
It is not appropriate to approve the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with the Olympic Games.
The boycott discussions in advance sparked fundamental debates in society. The pros and cons became a question of political sentiment and the ideology of everyone in the Cold War. “It is not proper to also approve the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with the Olympic Games,” she wrote NZZ am 20. April 1980.
Boycott as a political statement
The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan before Christmas 1979 triggered the worldwide boycott movement. On April 12, the American Olympic Committee decided to boycott the games with a two-thirds majority.
West Germany, like Canada, Japan or Kenya, supported the US position. And China, which had recently been reintroduced into the Olympic family, also decided not to take part.
France, on the other hand, spoke out against a boycott, which was also the UK’s NOK – contrary to the opinion of the British House of Commons.
Swiss associations make their own decisions
In Switzerland, opinions among the population and within the sports associations were divided. Conservative forces advocated progressive against boycott. It was up to the associations and athletes whether they wanted to compete in Moscow.
The riders of the top nations had given up early, including the Swiss riders – despite promising candidates. The shooting, gymnastics and fencing associations also refused to participate – against the will of many athletes.
Ultimately, the Switzerland delegation started under a neutral flag with 82 athletes, including the later Olympic champions Jürg Röthlisberger and Robert Dill-Bundi. They decided not to march in at the opening ceremony. A total of 4,485 athletes and 1,220 athletes from 80 nations took part in the games played for the first time in a socialist country, 16 of them from Afghanistan.