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African nations boycott Montreal's 'white Olympics'

Every four years, the countries of the world gather to celebrate athletic achievement in an atmosphere of international cooperation. That is the goal of the Olympic Games, yet rare has been the Olympiad that is totally free of politics. Adolf Hitler used the Games as an Aryan showcase in 1936, and a string of politically motivated boycotts in the 1970s and '80s threatened to kill the Olympic movement. The Games rebounded, but in 2008 the spectre of boycott returned as protesters sought to use the Beijing Games as a political platform.

Rugby isn't among the 21 sports at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, but it's having an impact there all the same. Furious that the IOC took no action against New Zealand for sending its national rugby team to play in apartheid South Africa, 22 African nations have pulled out of the Games. In this segment from CBC Radio's Olympic Magazine, Ethiopia's chef de mission explains his reasons for the boycott.

• In his 1981 book The Politics of the Olympic Games, author Richard Espy notes that numerous other nations besides New Zealand had sporting ties with South Africa; the United States was even planning a gymnastics tour there at the time.

• "The 1976 boycott made it clear," Espy writes, "that the question of sport or violations of Olympic rules had nothing to do with the position of the African countries. Sport and the Olympics provided a convenient forum for the exposition of a social and political cause, which went far beyond sport."  

• Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), whose sports federations were alleged to practice racial discrimination, was ousted from the Olympics in 1975  

• Another political issue affecting the 1976 Games was the name under which Taiwan competed.
The island nation, which did not accept the political legitimacy of communist mainland China, wanted its team to compete under the name Republic of China. But the Canadian government only recognized the mainland, or People's Republic of China, as legitimate, and refused entry to Taiwanese athletes so long as they insisted on competing under the name Republic of China.

• An uproar ensued, with the United States team considering a boycott and heated debates in the House of Commons. The Canadian Olympic Committee disagreed with the government's stand, and though the IOC attempted a compromise, the Taiwanese did not participate. The situation so enraged U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was pro-Taiwan, that he refused to attend the Olympics.  

Medium: Radio
Program: Olympic Magazine
Broadcast Date: July 18, 1976
Guest(s): Tsegaw Agele, Dennis Brutus
Host: Harry Brown
Duration: 8:37
Photo: Photo from 1976 Montreal Olympic Games from Canadian Press

Last updated: February 2, 2012

Page consulted on March 5, 2014

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