In December of 1979, Soviet Union troops–disguised as Afghani solders–entered the city of Kabul, Afghanistan and led a coup against the internationally recognized government of president Hafizullah Amin, who was killed after the Soviets stormed Tajbeg Palace on the evening of December 27. By next day the coup was complete, the Soviets held Kabul, and Russian tanks, troops, and vehicles spilled over the mountains in an effort to control town and cities throughout the country. It was a sign of unchecked aggression by a nation that most of the world would prefer to stay checked. Most saw the move, which horrified the West, as an attempt for the USSR to ultimately seize control of the entire Middle East and gain access to the Indian Ocean.
The international outcry was swift and severe. Ministers from 34 Muslim nations–including, interestingly, Ayatollah Khomeini, whose newly founded theocracy in Iran was a fierce enemy of most of the West–condemned the invasion and called for immediate Soviet withdrawal. The United Nations General Assembly issued a resolution protesting the Russian action. And the President of the United States, on top of his work with NATO to stem the flow of weapons into the region, famously issued an ultimatum to the Russians in January of 1980: withdraw from Afghanistan in one month or the USA would boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics, due to be held in Moscow the following summer. The Russians stood firm, and the USA stayed home, as did more than 60 other nations. Four years later, the Soviets boycotted the summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
The Russian occupation of Afghanistan, and the ensuing guerrilla war, would last for nine years, one month, three weeks and one day. It would result in the deaths of over 120,000 Russian and Afghanistan troops, as well as the deaths of (estimates vary) at least 500,000 Afghani civilians, but probably a lot more than that.
Starting in 1949, the South African government began to issue a series of Apartheid laws. There was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act; the Immorality Act, which banned sexual relations between people of differing races; the Population Registration Act, which classed all citizens into one of four racial categories; and the Group Areas Act, which began segregating the nation’s population based on their predetermined racial category. From 1960 to 1983, nearly four million citizens of color were forced from their homes and into segregated neighborhoods.
The worldwide outcry was not insignificant and notably included an arms and weapon embargo instituted by the United Nations. Also included in the backlash were boycotts of the nation by rock bands, orchestras and, of course, international sport organizations. For instance, four years before the USA boycotted the Moscow Olympics, 26 African nations refused to participate in the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal because the International Olympic Committee refused to ban New Zealand after the All-Blacks traveled to South Africa for a Rugby tour.
Previous to the action in 1976, South Africa had been banned from the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo; in 1968 the United Nations called for an international boycott of all South African sports that support Apartheid (this is the edict that New Zealand, and several other nations, violated); and in 1970 the ECB cancelled the South African’s cricket team’s tour of England after several nations threatened to boycott the Commonwealth Games to be held that summer in Scotland.
Apartheid would last until 1996. It is without a doubt one of the darkest stains on humanity, a stain that will never come clean.
Apartheid and the 1980 and 1984 Olympics are arguably the most famous sporting boycotts, but there have been many others. Several nations did not participate in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics for several different reasons; in 1988, North Korea, Cuba, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua boycotted the Seoul Olympics; in 1996, Australia and the West Indies refused to play in Colombo due to security concerns; and in 2009 the England Cricket team cancelled Zimbabwe’s tour because of their government’s human rights abuses.
Every nation pulled out due to various reasons, but they were all justified, or at least logical. Be those reasons geo-political, humanitarian, or the safety of their athletes; Apartheid, unchecked Soviet Aggression leading to a decade long war or state sponsored protestor beatings in Harare. Even less politically sensitive boycotts, such as the ATP tennis players boycotting Wimbledon in 1973 could be seen as attempts to protect the rights of athletes. Sporting boycotts have always been a weapon of last resort, for good reason, as restless populations might see the boycott as a last straw by an oppressive government, and the isolation that ensues after boycotts can be see as detrimental to third world nations getting access to the West’s money and weapons. It is last resort, and the reasons have to be good ones.
India, meanwhile, want to boycott the Champions Trophy because the ICC is making an effort to fix a broken system.