The Olympic Games provide a unique platform on which governments can use to make a political stand. Over the years many countries have refused to participate for political reasons in the form of organised boycotts. These boycotts have often tended to overshadow the events of the games them selves, not only through increased publicity, but through the unfair competition that results from having few countries represented at the games. These boycotts can be seen throughout the modern Olympic Games.

In 1964, the IOC banned South Africa from the Olympic Games in Tokyo over its policy on racial segregation. This ban continued right up until 1992, following the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. In 1976, just before the summer games in Montreal, 32 African countries refused to participate. The dispute was over the IOC decision to permit New Zealand to participate in the Games. At the time, the New Zealand Rugby team were touring racially segregated South Africa. The IOC chose not to intervene as Rugby is not an Olympic sport so they were not in a position to react to the tour. Many felt that a diplomatic compromise could have been reached, but the IOC did not participate in talks. Taiwan also refused to participate; this was due to the Canadian government refusing to allow it to compete as the Republic of China. In this case Canada is thought to have violated the host city contract of being impartial in political matters and the IOC was unable to intervene.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, the year before the Olympics in Moscow. In response to the soviet invasion, US president Jimmy Carter gave an ultimatum. On January the 20th he declared that if the Soviet army did not withdraw from Afghanistan then the US would not send a team to the Moscow games. Other western governments also followed suit. The result was that all national Olympic committees (NOC s) were put under great pressure from their own governments not to submit teams. The UK NOC voted to submit a team despite the influence of Margaret Thatcher, the British government was able only to restrict the use of the British flag at the games. In total 65 NOCs refused to take part, although it is suspected that some smaller countries declared a boycott in the hope of receiving aid and support from the US.

In retaliation for the previous boycott, the Soviet Union and 13 communist allies did not participate in the 1984 Los Angeles games. Romania was the only Warsaw pact country to send a team to the games. This lead to largely unbalanced games where the US teams dominated the athletics without the Eastern European competition.

Before the 1988 games were awarded to Seoul, South Korea, the IOC spent a long time negotiating the bid. It was proposed that North Korea and South Korea unite in hosting the games; this would have been a historic event, as the IOC's normal policy is to award the games to one host country only. Internal reports show that the IOC never expected a Korean co-host bid to work out, but nevertheless they conducted the negotiations as well as they could. The reasons given in communication that the talks would not end satisfactory were that North Korea would not live up to the "tenets" and ideals of a host country as well as problems with transport across the border and distributing the events between the countries. After the negotiations broke down, North Korea refused to participate, with Cuba and Ethiopia supporting North Korean by boycotting also.

After the games in Seoul, the Soviet Union collapsed and communist reign ended in Eastern Europe. This reduced the amount of influence the cold war and subsequent boycotts had on the games. For the first time in 20 years all nations were represented in the Barcelona games in 1992. South Africa returned as well as North Korea and Cuba participating. 1992 also saw a reunified Germany competing under 1 flag, and the 12 countries of the Soviet Union submitting one team. In recent years there has been little political controversy surrounding the games. Subsequent host cities (Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens) have been relatively stable over tame. The choice of these 'safer' bid cities has often been interpreted as the IOC shying away from political; controversy. However, the IOC has chosen Beijing to host the 2008 games. During negotiations over the Korean bid, the IOC developed a well-trained negotiation team, as well as devoting time and resources in training its staff in international politics. The result is that the IOC is well equipped to deal with future political negotiations surrounding the games, and is most likely to take a more active role in international politics. This means that in the future, we will see more of the IOC becoming a powerful political force, particularly with it's involvement with the UN and the Olympic truce.

• 1964 Tokyo - The IOC bans South Africa over its apartheid policy on racial segregation. South Africa was permitted to participate in the Barcelona Games following the denunciation of apartheid policies.

• 1976 Montreal - 32 African countries boycott over IOC's refusal to ban New Zealand. The New Zealand Rugby team were touring racially segregated South Africa. Taiwan boycott as they were not allowed to compete as the Republic of China.

• 1980 Moscow - US lead boycott by 65 western governments over Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan. UK, Italy, Spain and France send in national teams despite government's wishes.

• 1984 Los Angeles - Soviet Union and 13 communist allies refuse to participate in retaliation for US boycott. Romania was the only Warsaw pact country to send a team to the games.

• 1988 Seoul - North Korea refused to participate, this was due to the failure of the co-hosting bid. Cuba and Ethiopia also stayed away in support of North Korea.

• 1992 Barcelona - South Africa participate following abolition of Apartheid. Germany submits a united team following reunification. Also the 12 countries of the Soviet Union participated as one team.

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