In 1980 Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser urged a boycott of the Moscow Olympics. His decision, encouraged by US President Jimmy Carter, was a reaction to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The Soviets argued they were responding to an appeal for assistance from the Afghan communist government in its conflict with anticommunist Muslim guerrillas. But Western Bloc nations feared the Soviets would gain access to the Middle East and seize control of much of the world’s oil supply. This badge demonstrates the Australian community’s bitter split over the mix of sport and politics.
Fraser thought it essential for the West take a stance against Soviet aggression. His government did not impose trade sanctions, which could have damaged Australian agriculture and industry, but cancelled academic, scientific and cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union. When the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) decided by six votes to five to send a team to Moscow, the government pressured the AOC and individual athletes to reconsider. The boycott was portrayed as a matter of national security and world peace. Some athletes—many just teenagers—felt they would be traitors to compete. Others found the intense pressure ruined their preparation. As corporate sponsors cancelled financial support, trade unions stepped in: the Seamen’s Union raised some $50,000 for the athletes. But swimmer Tracey Wickham and track star Raelene Boyle withdrew, as did the yachting, hockey, equestrian, volleyball and shooting teams. Some athletes believed the controversy wrecked their careers. Ironically, Australia’s successful pitch to host the 2000 Games was based in part on the fact that Australians have competed in every modern Olympics.