1980 Moscow Olympics decathlete Peter Hadfield condemns governments using Russian athletes as pawns, backs AOC, IOC

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Hadfield was among a contingent of Australian athletes who endured abuse and death threats to compete in the 1980 Games in Moscow.

Peter Hadfield competes in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Peter Hadfield competes in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.Credit:

The AOC sent a team after narrowly voting to defy a directive of the government led by Malcolm Fraser, which urged the AOC to boycott the event. Despite having the support of their national committee, about half the Australian team pulled out of the campaign. Many who attended, including Hadfield and 16-year-old swimmer Lisa Forrest, succumbed to sustained criticism and failed to perform at their best.

Hadfield remains scathing of the government’s stance at the time and said the same dynamic existed in this instance.

“There was a lot of pressure being applied by the government, and then subsequent pressure by supportive business groups and other organisations … for athletes to be provided with financial incentives to boycott the Games,” he said.

“At the same time there were continued economic partnerships and trade between Australia and Russia, so Australian business weren’t being affected. The Olympic athletes at the time became a very cheap way of applying pressure that achieved nothing.”

Russia is still operating under IOC sanctions banning any government officials from either Russia or Belarus from being invited to international sporting events and prohibiting IOC-linked sports events in both countries.

The organisation – led by former German fencer Thomas Bach, who was himself forced to boycott the 1980 Games in line with Germany’s stance at the time – in January stood by its sanctions against Russia but also reaffirmed its belief Russian athletes should be allowed to compete as neutrals.

This principle was used at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, when Russia was under a worldwide ban for state-sponsored doping. Athletes competed under the so-called Russian Olympic Committee flag, but the move was criticised for being ineffectual.

ROC team uniforms could not feature the Russian flag but could use the country’s national colours. They could also feature the name “Russia” but had to include “neutral athlete” or similar, in the same size.

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The Russian flag could not be flown in an official capacity in Tokyo and the national anthem was banned. Gold medal-winning athletes instead listened to Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 while the Olympic flag was raised.

The signatories to this week’s letter said those measures did not go far enough, but the IOC hit back questioning the human rights implications of continuing to exclude athletes from two countries.

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