London 2012 - Coe defied Thatcher to win 1980 gold

Sat, 01 Jan 13:29:00 2011

London 2012 chairman Lord Sebastian Coe deliberately defied orders from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to compete at the Moscow 1980 Olympics, according to top-secret documents made public this week.

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Coe, who won his first Olympic gold in Moscow, decided to compete in the USSR despite calls from the Government to boycott over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 when Cold War tensions were heightened.

A number of nations such as the USA and West Germany opted to boycott after the Soviet army marched into Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, 1979 but the British Government could not stop their athletes competing if they so wished.

But disclosures released today by the National Archives in accordance with the 30-year rule of the Official Secrets Act shows Coe and the other British athletes were directly contradicting government policy.

Thatcher sent a series of letters to the British Olympic Association  warning it would be "against British interests and wrong" for them to compete and she urged the boycotting of the Games.

In one letter to Sir Denis Follows, the then BOA chairman, the Prime Minister said that attending the event would not be in British interests.

She said: "The Games will serve the propaganda needs of the Soviet Government. There is no effective palliative, such as cutting out the ceremonies.

"I remain firmly convinced that it is neither in our national interest nor in the wider Western interest for Britain to take part in Games in Moscow.

"As a sporting event, the Games cannot now satisfy the aspirations of our sportsmen and women. British attendance in Moscow can only serve to frustrate the interests of Britain."

In hindsight however, Coe's decision to compete in Moscow has been lauded and is one of the key reasons he is held in such high regard within the Olympic Movement.

In 1980 the Olympics were in decline, coming just eight years after the fatal terrorist attack at Munich 1972 and with a number of high profile countries boycotting the Moscow event.

Juan Antonio Samaranch had only just taken his position as IOC president, an organisation in financial crisis in the 1970s, and with Los Angeles set to host the 1984 Games, more boycotting from the Soviet bloc was inevitable.

Coe's decision therefore to compete in Moscow and his memorable tussles with compatriot Steve Ovett have not been forgotten in the corridors of power in Lausanne.

More Than The Games / Eurosport

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