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The California Activists Who Scared the Soviets Away From the 1984 Olympics

February 21, 2018 in History

By Brianna Nofil

American athletics fans displaying a banner with the message 'To Russia With Love! Having a Great Time, Wish You Were Here', in reference to the boycott of the Games by the Soviet Union. (Credit: Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics have been the first Games in 34 years that Russia has not, technically, attended. After a years-long doping scandal, the International Olympic Committee stripped Russia of 41 medals and formally banned them from this year’s games, leaving their athletes to compete under the clunky banner of “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

But 34 years ago the then-Soviet Union had a perhaps even more dramatic reason for not coming to an Olympic Games: they believed that American radicals were going to kidnap all of their athletes.

In 1984, a ragtag group of right-wing businessmen, advertising executives, and Soviet bloc immigrants were hatching a plan in the sprawling suburbs of Southern California. The Los Angeles Olympics, just weeks away, had been designed to extol the merits of the free market: they’d be privately funded, run by businessmen, and if all went according to plan, would end with an unprecedented surplus of cash.

But this grassroots group, known as the Ban the Soviets Coalition, had a different goal: keeping the Soviet Union athletes out of Los Angeles at all costs.

American athletics fans displaying a banner with the message ‘To Russia With Love! Having a Great Time, Wish You Were Here’, in reference to the boycott of the Games by the Soviet Union. (Credit: Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

The Ban the Soviets Coalition recognized they might not be able to completely thwart the Soviet team. The Soviet Union had sunk billion of rubles into their athletic programs, viewing success on the Olympic stage as a validation of the communist system. So the coalition also had a Plan B: if the Soviets showed up they would attempt to trigger a mass defection, encouraging all the Soviet athletes to claim asylum in the United States.

Russian-language billboards would line the Los Angeles highways, offering instructions on how to claim asylum. “This is the Land of Liberty and This is a Telephone Number You Can Call,” read one proposed street sign. Safe houses would be established throughout Los Angeles, where fleeing athletes could find a place to stay and receive legal support. The Coalition claimed that its operatives had already begun to infiltrate the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and were well placed to assist defectors.

It was a radical plan, and a plan that few believed they could actually carry out. But it hit on a legitimate …read more

Source: HISTORY

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