As a retaliation move against the U.S., the Soviet Union announced it would not compete in the XXIII Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The Soviet Union was retaliating after the U.S – and 60 other nations - boycotted the 1980 games in Moscow after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The Soviet Union was simply ‘returning the favor’ by boycotting the 1984 games in America.
The Soviet Union issued the statement just twelve weeks before the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympic Games, insisting that America would not contain outbursts resulting from protests against Soviet athletes. The Soviet Union claimed the Olympics games were not safe for its athletes. The country feared its athletes would be attacked physically, and American authorities would not be able to contain the protests.
The announcement was made on May 8, 1984, and it was expected that other countries in the Eastern Bloc would follow suit. The decision was relayed on Russian TV and the United States was blamed for commercializing the games and not taking proper security measures. That meant a violation of the Olympic charter.
The government of the Soviet Union issued a statement claiming, “It is known from the very first days of preparations for the present Olympics the American administration has sought to set course at using the Games for its political aims. Chauvinistic sentiments and anti-Soviet hysteria are being whipped up in this country.” The statement was published from the USSR National Olympic Committee months before the games.
The administration of the then President, Ronald Reagan, did not take the matter lightly, and it responded claiming the boycott was “a blatant political decision for which there was no real justification.” Even though the Soviet Union did not state the boycott was political, it was obvious the boycott was a response to the United States. The U.S had led a boycott of the 1980 games that were held in Moscow.
According to the USSR, the United States was using the games for political purposes. Specifically, to propagate anti-Soviet propaganda. The United States was also accused of having a “cavalier attitude to security of Russian athletes.”
Following the announcement, 13 other communist nations refused to attend the games, citing the same concerns. Among the countries (mostly socialist countries) were Hungary, Vietnam, North Korea, East Germany, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Czechoslovakia. The move did not have a significant diplomatic effect. However, the Games were largely affected by the absence of these nations. The United States managed to scoop an Olympic record of 83 gold medals since there was no competition from East Germany, the Soviet Union, and other Communist nations.
The withdrawal of the USSR clearly devalued the Los Angeles Games as it became certain that top athletes from the Eastern Bloc would no longer attend the games. The White House was not impressed by the move, and a State Department representative, John Hughes, confirmed the USA had taken all the necessary measures to ensure adequate security was in place. Hughes attacked the USSR for its uncouth behavior and its persecution of dissidents.
The USSR gave its official reasons for the boycott, but many considered the move as a response to the 1980 American-led boycott.