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Moscow Olympics 1980: CBC no-show

From Melbourne to Montreal, Munich to Mexico City, the CBC has roamed the planet to beam Olympic history into Canadian living rooms. We take a look back and, through the eyes of CBC correspondents, experience decades of Olympic triumph and heartbreak. At first, it's via crackling shortwave. Later, live TV coverage flows around-the-clock from the other side of the globe.

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Canada's national broadcaster has decided to abandon its plans to broadcast the 1980 Moscow Olympics at a cost of about $5 million. The announcement by CBC president Al Johnson follows the Canadian government's decision to join a U.S.-led boycott of the Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

In this CBC Television clip, Johnson justifies the unprecedented decision to essentially ignore an Olympic Games. It would be "paradoxical" for the CBC to cover a sporting event in which few if any Canadians are participating, he says. Also, few viewers would tune in.
• CBC president Al Johnson announced on April 23, 1980, that the broadcaster would not cover the Moscow Games. The decision followed strong public pressure on the Crown corporation not to go to Moscow. "There were no communications whatsoever between the government and me about this decision," Johnson told the Globe and Mail newspaper. "It was taken entirely by the CBC."

• The CBC had planned to send a 142-member crew to Moscow. It instead used pool footage to provide only brief news reports about the Olympic events.

• Johnson said his "long and hard" decision would cost the CBC as much as $5.2 million. The broadcaster was legally obliged to pay the remainder of a $1.2-million fee for Canadian broadcast rights and another $1.2 million for facility rentals. Johnson further estimated that losing the Games would cost the CBC about $3.8 million in lost advertising revenues.

• The CTV network announced the same day it was dropping all Olympic coverage. An arrangement to use CBC-provided pictures to produce nightly highlight packages was scuttled by the CBC's boycott decision.

• NBC, which had paid $87 million US for American broadcast rights, also cancelled coverage. It recouped almost all the money paid out through an insurance policy. NBC sent a 50-person crew to Moscow to videotape all the events "for history" but provided no special coverage. Japan broadcast 40 hours of Olympic coverage, down from the planned 206. British networks cut their coverage by three-quarters.

• Russian gymnast Alexsandr Dityatin became the only Olympian to win eight medals, including two gold. His countryman, distance swimmer Vladimir Salnikov, was another star of the 1980 Games, winning three gold medals. British runners Steve Ovett and Sebastien Coe engaged in memorable duels, with Ovett winning the 800-metre gold and Coe taking the 1,500-metre. Britain was part of the 60-nation, U.S.-led boycott but allowed its athletes to attend. 
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: April 28, 1980
Guest: Albert Johnson
Host: Don McNeill
Reporter: Tom Leach
Duration: 2:17

Last updated: October 29, 2013

Page consulted on July 21, 2014

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