When you have an event as high profile as the Olympic Games, you know that politics is going to come into it at some point. When the international community wants to make a point about the actions of a rogue nation, banning that country from competing in the Olympics is a very visible way to do it. And should a country not particularly like whoever is hosting that year, boycotts are a great way to demonstrate disapproval. Below, OpenCanada runs through the biggest boycotts and bans in Olympic history.
The 420 BC Games at Olympia
Sparta was barred from attending the Games at Olympia after it violated the Olympic truce that was meant to protect athletes and spectators from whatever war was happening at the time. According to the historian Thucydides, there was some concern that the very warlike Spartans would force their way in regardless.
The 1908 London Olympics
After Britain refused to grant Ireland its independence, many Irish athletes boycotted the Games in London. Perhaps in a show of solidarity with their freedom-seeking brethren, members of the American team failed to dip their flag to King Edward VII during the opening ceremony.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics
With Nazi Germany hosting, there was serious talk in many countries of boycotting the Games, but ultimately only Spain – then led by the left-wing Popular Front – and the Soviet Union chose not to compete. Spain even went so far as to organize the People’s Olympiad in Barcelona as an alternative to the Olympics, but the event was cancelled just two days before it was scheduled to begin, after the Spanish Civil War broke out.
The 1956 Melbourne Olympics
Different countries stayed away from Australia for different reasons. Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon boycotted the Games to protest the invasion of Egypt by Israeli, British, and French troops during the Suez Crisis. The Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland boycotted to protest the Soviet Union’s violent suppression of the Hungarian Revolution. And the People’s Republic of China pulled out because the Republic of China (Taiwan) had been allowed to attend.
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics
Before the Tokyo Games began, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave South Africa a choice: either renounce racial discrimination in sport or be banned from the Olympics. South Africa refused, and the country wasn’t allowed to attend the Olympics again until 1992.
The 1976 Montreal Olympics
When the IOC failed to bar New Zealand from the Montreal Games as punishment for the Kiwi national rugby team’s tour of apartheid South Africa, more than 20 African countries boycotted the Games.
The 1980 Moscow Olympics
The 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan prompted then-U.S.-president Jimmy Carter to pull the American team out of the Moscow Games. More than 60 other countries followed the American lead, leaving only 81 participating countries. The Soviet team went on to win an impressive 195 medals.
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Soviet Union and 14 of its Eastern Bloc allies (with the exception of Romania) decided to sit out the Los Angeles Games. The official excuse was security concerns for their athletes. The American team managed 173 medals in their absence (the Romanian team came in second with 53).
The 1988 Seoul Olympics
After North Korea was not recognized as host alongside South Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea boycotted the Games. It was joined by Ethiopia, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
Research by Ioana Sendroiu