by Ken Read
Well, it’s done.
For the first time in the history of Canadian participation in the modern Olympiad, Canadians will not take part in an Olympic festival. I find it rather sad that this summer Canadians will not be able to see the Games, let alone cheer on our Canadian contingent — one that might well have been the best Canada ever fielded.
Let us look a little deeper and take a close look at the positions and commitments of those involved with the boycott stand and assess the impact upon the various groups concerned.
In a policy statement on April 23, 1980, the Canadian government came out in support of the call of the United States government for a boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The communique stated that the strongest possible stand must be taken against the USSR’s action and its refusal to withdraw its troops. Our government firmly believes this situation makes it totally inappropriate to hold the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. The communique was further clarified by sport minister Gerald Regan at the annual meeting of the Canadian Olympic Association (COA) on April 26. He said the position of the government was not intended to curtail sport, culture, or economic contacts but to protest the venue of the 1980 Summer Games.
Canadian athletes have responded with varying reactions but, for the most part, have taken positions against the boycott. The government policy is of major concern to them because it is the athletes who bear the brunt of the Canadian stand. For athletes, the Olympic Games are not just simply a sports gathering that brings together competitors from all over the world. The Games are a festival — a festival of sport and culture, of contact and communication. They are a means to learn the ways and beliefs of other athletes. They are an opportunity for contact and communication within the Canadian sports sphere and for learning about the structures of the various sports and their federations.
Canadian athletes have made a strong commitment to amateur sport and to attaining a high level of participation in the world of international sport. I believe the position of the athletes is best stated in the Athletes’ Presentation to the COA’s annual meeting:
“Our government asked its amateur athletes to strive for attainment of athletic excellence that would have as its ultimate goal competent participation in the 1980 Games.”
The third party involved in this issue was the COA which was left in the most difficult position: pressured by the Canadian government to support the boycott and faced with the withdrawal of government funds to support the Olympic team. It was also faced with the prospect of jeopardizing future support for amateur sport and was pressured by the International Olympic Committee to support the Olympic Charter which, in the section on Autonomy of the National Olympic Committee (Section III, 24, c) clearly states:
“NOC’s must be autonomous and must resist all pressures of any kind which would be in conflict with the principles of the Olympic movement and with the rules of the IOC.”
The COA was caught in a vise and probably took its only realistic course of action: to support the government and join the boycott of the 1980 Games.
As a participant in the athlete’s meeting in Montréal prior to the COA meeting, I felt, as the issues were discussed, that the three groups involved were political pawns in a game being played to the south of us and leading up to the 1980 presidential elections in the United States. The Canadian government was left in the compromising position of supporting our closest ally and trading partner on an issue the USA had made to be of greatest concern while abandoning our traditional stand of neutrality in the sports sphere.
Groups that have little involvement in amateur sport have neither fully considered nor understood the implications of their actions. One must be aware of the burden placed upon the athlete in joining the boycott. After years of training and striving for athletic excellence, the disappointment must be extremely disturbing. These athletes have developed a pattern of goal-oriented achievement through their involvement in sport and striving for excellence. They are held up as examples to Canadian youth and to society as a whole, for their dedication, perseverance, determination, and achievement. Is this not one of the main purposes of Sport Canada? Actions such as the boycott can only damage that lofty image. There can only be disenchantment and bitterness when such a great effort is shunted aside by a vague and questionable strategy.
Could not the Canadian position have been one of two alternatives?
One: a strong, unequivocal cultural and economic policy, including sport, which would state clearly but equitably our “strongest possible stand” and would express our grave concern. This instead of the token position of the Olympic boycott which really only tries to achieve the greatest possible effect with the least inconvenience — save for a few amateur athletes.
The other alternative — participation in the Games. From my own experience and from reports that are presently coming from Europe, it seems that the boycott position is not understood at the level it is meant to be understood — by the man on the street. Few know the circumstances in Afghanistan other than that the USSR was “asked to help.” Even less understood are the motives and concerns of the boycotting countries. By being there, could we not have helped to get the message across? Surely dialogue, extra competitive incentive and/or symbolic acts would have crossed any language barrier or political quarantine. By not being there, we have effectively blocked any communication with those upon whom we wish to impress our concern.
The real effect of the boycott is yet to be felt. The dialogue continues each day in the media. The real effect, the one that will strike home, will come when the Olympiad opens on July 19. I know my own feelings will be emptiness and loss when the Summer Games begin and Canada’s finest athletes are not there to be a part of the Olympic festival.
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