By Duncan Mackay
British Sports Internet Writer of the Year

Moscow_1980_mascot_with_medalsDecember 31 - More secret documents have been published which shed light on the political machinations that went on as Governments tried to get their teams boycott the Olympics in Moscow in 1980.

A day after Britain published correspondence between then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the British Olympic Association urging them to miss the Games in protest over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, similar documents have been released in Australia and Ireland.

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser believed Soviet aggression needed to be opposed at every turn and Australia could play its part by spurning the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Cabinet papers for 1980 - released by the National Archives of Australia under the 30-year rule - show Fraser and his Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock branded the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as a mode of behaviour which made normal relationships between nations totally impossible.

The Moscow Olympics, to be conducted in July and August 1980, was a crucial issue, with the Australian Government concerned that the Soviets would use the Games for propaganda.

It made no final decision on Australian participation.

But Fraser was handed carte blanche to use all appropriate international forums to explain the dangers flowing from the Soviet action in Afghanistan.

Fraser duly departed on a world tour in late January, reporting back to cabinet on February 12 of growing concern among world leaders plus considerable support for United States President Jimmy Carter's call for an Olympic boycott.

"The Cabinet agreed that there was a need to state in unequivocal terms the Government's policy of opposition to an Australian team taking part in the Games in Moscow," a Cabinet minute says.

But that was not the Government's decision to make.

Cabinet agreed that the Prime Minister should write to the Australian Olympic Federation (AOF) outlining its stance and requesting no team go to Moscow.

The Government also expressed its desire that Qantas not fly athletes or spectators to Moscow and that the Moscow Embassy provide no support to any Australian team.

In a discussion paper, the Government canvassed the consequences of an Olympic boycott including the prospects of an alternative free world games, with different sports staged in different nations.

That was to no avail, with the AOF deciding on May 23 it would send a team to Moscow despite the Government's firm opposition.

Following, the AOF's initial move to defer a boycott decision, Fraser asked: "How many lives is a medal worth?

"How many people have to be killed by Soviet armies before we will have total unity on this country on whether or not to compete in Moscow?"

In a letter to AOF chairman Syd Grange, the PM said the organisation was ignoring the national interest and Australia was now lining up with communist nations on the issue and that "I find that a shameful position to be in".

In response, the Government decided to write to individual national sporting organisations pressing for them to stay home.

In his final personal appeal, Fraser is reported to have warned there might be a world war within three years.

Michelle_FordAs it turned out, the hockey, yachting, shooting and equestrian teams withdrew, but an Australian team of 120 did go to Moscow, competing in 17 sports and winning five medals, two of them gold, with swimmer Michelle Ford (pictured) being crowned the only individual champion with victory in the 800 metres freestyle.

Meanwhile, newly published papers in Ireland, reveal that Kevin Ryan, the Chef de Mission of their team for Moscow, was concerned that athetes would stage an IRA-inspired demonstration.

He also told diplomats he was also worried competitors would go on a drinking binge in the Russian capital due to stress.

Taoiseach Charles Haughey backed the US-led boycott but did not believe it would help the situation.

The Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) defied the Taoiseach and sent one of its strongest ever teams with 48 athletes winning two medals, a silver and a bronze.

Ryan, who marched alone at the opening ceremony without the Tricolour but carrying a white flag with the five-ring Olympic symbol, made his fears known in a meeting with an Irish Ambassador.

Detailing issues concerning him, he said he was worried about "the possibility of athletes organising an IRA-inspired demonstration in the Olympic Village".

He said there were concerns that athletes would release tension after their events by going on a binge and that umpires and starters might try to put competitors on edge by giving unclear instructions.

Ryan claimed the OCI supported the Government's stance and was going to Moscow "purely from the sporting point of view".

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