History of sporting boycotts

1936 Berlin Olympics

Boycotts have been a part of how nations have expressed disagreement with each other for decades. They can be a great way to shine a light on horrific human rights abuses. On the other hand, countries that take part in events hosted by controversial governments can be seen to give support to the activities of the nation. Here are some examples of previous sporting boycotts that we can learn from. 

Berlin Olympics, 1936 

One of the most famously controversial sporting competitions ever was the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Germany won the right to host the games before Hitler came to power but by 1936 the Nazi persecution of Jews and other minorities was in full effect. Spain was the only country to fully boycott the Olympics, planning its own event. Hitler hid some of his most antisemitic propaganda and used the Olympics to improve Germany’s reputation in the world.

South African cricket tour of the UK, 1970

For much of the second half of the 20th Century, South Africa was excluded from much world sport. In 1968 the South African government had banned a black South African-born cricketer called Basil D'Oliveira from joining an England tour to the country. A few years later, the UK government asked the England team to cancel a planned visit by the South African team to the UK in 1970. Actions against South Africa helped keep apartheid in people’s minds and keep up political pressure.

Montreal Olympics, 1976

In total, 29 countries chose to boycott the 1976 Games because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allowed New Zealand to compete even though it had sent a rugby team to South Africa. It was mainly African nations who chose to boycott and European and American countries were not involved.

Argentina Football World Cup, 1978

Several countries debated boycotting the 1978 World Cup after the bloody military coup in Argentina, the host country. In the end, no countries boycotted and Argentina won the tournament, cementing their status as a leading sporting nation.

Moscow Olympics, 1980

Led by the United States, 65 nations boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in protest at the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Other countries, such as Great Britain, France and Australia joined the protest by competing under the Olympic flag.

Zimbabwe cricket tour of England, 2009

In 2009, the UK government asked the England cricket team to cancel a planned visit by the Zimbabwe team after the re-election of Robert Mugabe. By taking responsibility for cancelling the tour, the UK government saved the players from punishment.


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