As the Atlanta Olympic Games prepared to open, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told a group of international journalists that he has no regrets about the way he handled the controversy surrounding the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
In a July 18 forum for international journalists sponsored by Emory and The Carter Center, Carter was joined by his wife Rosalynn and Emory President Bill Chace, who moderated the event.
Carter said that while he is generally acknowledged by the media and others to have instituted a U.S. boycott of the Moscow games, the boycott actually was undertaken by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) with Carter's full support.
"In January of 1980, I called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to move the Olympic Games to Greece," Carter recalled. "It wasn't too late to do that." The IOC declined and allowed the games to remain in Moscow. Carter said in April 1980, the USOC voted 68-0 to urge the IOC to move the games. When it became clear the games would not be moved from Moscow, the USOC voted by a 2-1 margin not to send U.S. athletes to the games.
The decision of the United States and 60 other nations to boycott the Moscow Olympics was prompted by the former Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Carter said even more urgency was added to that decision when it appeared the Soviets might also be planning to go beyond Afghani-stan into Iran or Pakistan.
"That was a devastating and tragic experience, and I hope nothing like it ever happens again," Carter said. "I hope the end of the Cold War has ended any threat to the integrity of the Olympics."
Although Carter said he didn't play a major role in bringing the Olympics to Atlanta, he was glad to assist in convincing the government of North Korea to send a team to the 1996 games. Carter said that after some of the Atlanta Olympic organizers asked him to intercede with North Korea, he wrote a letter to President Kim Jung Il asking him to reconsider his decision not to participate in the Olympics. The North Koreans announced soon afterward that they would be sending a team to Atlanta.
Carter said the North Korean decision to attend the Olympics, as well as the presence of the first Palestinian Olympic team in history, will help to make the Atlanta Olympics one of the most successful, exciting and intriguing in history. "The Olympics vividly demonstrate through individual athletic performances that all human beings should be treated equally," Carter said. "The political divisions that separate us are artificial. Athletic competition breaks down those barriers. It brings people together on common ground."