Sport has always been a powerful tool for political masters: sport and the apartheid era, the death of athletes due to Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Munich Olympics, government endorsed drug use in sport to gain political advantage, hostile nations treat sporting clashes like war. The 1980 Moscow Olympics was another example.
Sport is a strategic tool for politics. Sport has a passion, profile and influence unmatched throughout the world. As a result, the Australian Olympic Federation was pressured, as were individual sports and athletes, to boycott the games. In the end, the AOC voted to send a team while numerous sports (e.g. hockey, shooting, yachting and equestrian teams) and athletes withdrew.
Did it make a difference?
Looking back on this era of Australian sport, the debate still rages as to the difference it made, if any. Some suggest a stern message was sent to the Soviets. Others say ideology makes no difference and there were no tangible changes seen to Soviet foreign policy. Perhaps there is no clear answer.
Negatively, the Soviet war in Afghanistan lasted more than nine years, ending in February 1989. From this viewpoint the Moscow boycott made little difference to ending the hostilities. On the domestic front, Australian sport entered a divided period, with sports and athletes harassed for the decisions they made.
Positively, Australian sport was boosted, with an injection of funds to sports which toed the political line.
Perhaps there are no real winners. Athletes like Michelle Ford walked away with three gold medals, while Tracy Wickham has only questions of what if she had gone. Both have questions about how they would have fared if the whole world had turned up for the competition.
In the end, the era taught us that athletes were asked to make decisions based on politics that few (until the release of these documents) understood. There was a lost generation of athletes who were unable to achieve what comes around once in a lifetime: an Olympic berth.
The history of politics and sport goes back beyond the modern Olympics of Pierre de Coubertin. And it will continue to influence every Olympics, Soccer World Cup and local netball competition into the future. While some may scoff at the boycott of the Moscow Olympics and point to the feeble nature of the withdrawal, consider some of the more recent examples. What would you do? Cricket tours in terror-prone countries. (Terrorism is defined as "politically motivated violence" by many.) Go or stay? Cricket in countries run by dictators. Do you want to show your support for their regimes? The debate will continue, as will the influence of politics on sport and sport on politics.