Mondays with Murray: Would an Olympic Boycott Really Free Shcharansky?

The 2022 Beijing Olympics are scheduled to begin on Feb. 4 and run through Feb. 20. The Games will coincide with the host country’s most important holiday, the Chinese New Year, which begins on Feb. 1. Along with dozens of rights groups who are advocating a full boycott over China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang and other regions, governments are weighing whether to boycott the games.

In today’s “Mondays with Murray,” Jim Murray addresses the issue of boycotting the 1980 Olympics.





Would an Olympic Boycott Really Free Shcharansky?

“The Olympics movement tends to bring together in a radiant union all the qualities which guide mankind to perfection.”

Baron Pierre De Couberttin, Paris, 1900

  Poor old Baron de Coubertin. Born in Paris on New Year’s Day in 1862, trying for a military career at St. Cyr despite being passionately devoted to peace all his mondaysmurray2life, he conceived the quaint notion that the best way to ensure international tranquility was through the games people play. So he revived the ancient Olympic Games in 1896 to “promote global amity.” If countries persisted in misunderstanding each other’s politics, perhaps they could get on common ground through athletics.

  The ancient Games had foundered in a miasma of quarrels, jealousies and commercialization, but the baron reasoned we were a more adult world now and above such pettiness.

  Unfortunately, the ancient Games were run by gods. The modern Games were run by men. Rich men.

  They tried to keep the baron’s ideals inviolate, they tried to keep the Games apolitical, a foreign elite of sportsmen, far above the madding crowd.

  It worked fine until the IOC’s governing body of dukes, earls, marquises, counts and barons could not resist the trappings of Nazi Germany, whose citizens looked to them like their kind of people. There were abortive attempts to boycott the Games in 1936 by the U.S. There were already dark rumors about Nazi treatment of Jews, but it had not yet approached the sharp frenzy it was to become. The “final solution” was still some years off and, although synagogs were being stoned, and Himmler was beginning to pick sites for his death camps, Hitler cunningly removed the “Jews Not Welcome” signs from Berlin, Leni Reifenstahl took movies and, all in all, it looked like just a nice track meet.

  The Germans were thus the first to seize the Olympic platform to make political capital — the first, but not the last.

  In Mexico, in 1968, student unrest on the Avenida of the Insurgentes rose to fever pitch on the eve of the Games, and the IOC president, Avery Brundage, gravely troubled, met in some urgency with the Mexican president and wondered aloud if he shouldn’t move the Games to a more secure location. He was assured by the police the Games would go on without trouble. And, about two weeks before the opening ceremonies, student demonstration permitted in the Plaza of the Three Cultures was wantonly fired on, and, when the dead were cleared away, the Games had its peaceful venue.

  Or, almost. In America, Black athletes that year had weighed boycott, too, not of Mexico but of America. They ultimately elected to compete, but chose the victory stand, where the cameras of 100 countries around the world were on them, to show black-gloved defiance at the raising of the American flag and the opening notes of the national anthem.

  Mild as it was, the lesson was not lost on the terrorists, revolutionaries and people with causes throughout the world. At Munich, the guerrillas didn’t raise black gloves, they raised Kalashnikov machine rifles. First a black glove in the air, then a pulled grenade in a helicopter. The Olympic flag had a new ring, a death head.

  The 1980 Olympics are being scheduled to a counterpoint of dissidence in the host nation, where men are being sent to Siberia for devotion to free speech and the right to criticize its absence. Anatoly Shcharansky goes to the Gulag Archipelago for no visible crime, and the U.S. is all but up in arms. The Soviets make the classic rejoinder, the hell with you Yanks, what about the lynchings in America? They have a point, even though most of the lynchings in America these days are in Central Park, but Americans not only want to deprive Russia of American farm machinery but American athletes as well.

  But, on the eve of the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, Soviet armor crushed hundreds or thousands of Hungarian Freedom Fighters, and we marched, not to war, but to the start line with them. On the eve of the Mexico Olympics, Soviet tanks appeared on the streets of Czechoslovakia and again hundreds upon hundreds of Shcharanskys were not only thrown in jail but killed in the streets.

  The organizers know that, once dead, the Olympic Games stay dead for 1,500 years. If boycotting the Games, or even canceling them, would free Shcharansky, or any of the thousands of poor wretches in the salt mines, it would be a small price. And if the Soviets pull a last-minute power play to bar Israel from the Games, the way the Chinese did Taiwan at Montreal, the U.S. should promptly pull out.

  A U.S. pullout would almost certainly torch the Olympic movement once and for all. And there is very little doubt the Soviets would boycott the Games if they were scheduled, say, in Chile.

  But would a final irrevocable boycott help — or hurt — Shcharansky? Would the Russian man in the street or woman in the street really understand why we turned down their party? Wouldn’t a boycott threat serve as well as a boycott? Anyway, do the Games have to become a political football? If they do, let’s just cancel them forthwith. I think, by now, even Baron de Coubertin would agree.


Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation P.O. Box 661532, Arcadia, CA 91066


The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s mission is to establish a permanent legacy to Jim Murray. The JMMF has joined forces with the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and MLB share significant and timeless overlapping history with Jim Murray. Jim Murray wrote more columns on baseball than he wrote on any other sport, bringing baseball’s history and legends to life through sports journalism.

The JMMF will continue its “Mondays with Murray” posts indefinitely with a link to the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame website supporting its new Jim Murray initiative. The JMMF will dissolve its 501(c)(3) status and distribute its remaining financial assets to the Hall of Fame.

Baseball Hall of Fame non-profit 501(c)(3) #15-0572877

Preserving History. Honoring Excellence. Connecting Generations.|


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: