The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan spurred U.S. President Jimmy Carter to issue an ultimatum on January 20, 1980 that the United States would boycott the Moscow Olympics if Soviet troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan within one month.
The United States was joined in the boycott by some other countries – including Japan, West Germany, China, the Philippines, Argentina and Canada. Some of these countries competed at the Olympic Boycott Games in Philadelphia. Notably, United Kingdom, France and Australia supported the boycott but allowed their athletes to participate if they wished (the U.S.did not) and left the final decisions to participate in the Games to their respective National Olympic Committees and the individual athletes of the countries concerned. The United Kingdom and France sent a much smaller delegation of athletes than usual. Nevertheless, the delegation of the United Kingdom was the largest among Western Europe, with 170 athletes applying to compete. Spain, Italy, Sweden, Iceland and Finland were other principal nations representing western Europe, though Italian athletes belonging to military corps did not attend the Games, due to the government’s support of the boycott, which severely affected many events. Some American-born athletes who were citizens of other countries, such as Italy and Australia, did compete in Moscow.
At the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, athletes from a number of countries, including Australia, Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Puerto Rico, San Marino, Spain, and Switzerland, marched under the Olympic Flag, instead of their national flags, a fact that the Soviet TV coverage alternately ignored. Moreover, although the government of New Zealand officially supported the boycott, four athletes from that country competed independently and marched under their NOC’s flag. Altogether, the athletes of 16 countries were not represented by their national flags, and the Olympic Anthem replaced their national anthems at medal ceremonies. As a result, there were a few ceremonies where three Olympic Flags were raised.
Sixty-five countries did not participate in the Olympics despite being invited.
The succeeding 1984 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, United States saw another boycott, this time led by the Soviet Union. On May 8, 1984, the Soviet Union issued a statement that the country would boycott the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles due to “chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria being whipped up in the United States.” Thirteen Soviet allies joined the boycott, giving a total of fourteen nations that boycotted the Olympics.