Phone Call From China Transformed ’84 Games

As media the world over fixate on the multitude of political issues associated with Beijing’s hosting of the Olympics, Lynn Zinser of the New York Times administers a much-needed dose of historical perspective with a look at China’s decision to defy the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games:

In 1984, the stakes were higher. The Soviets were recruiting countries to retaliate for the United States’ decision to stay away from the 1980 Moscow Games, a boycott that 61 other countries joined. The Soviets announced on May 8, 1984, that their team would not come to Los Angeles because of fears for their athletes’ safety, claiming they had agreements from 100 countries to do the same.

[LA Games organizing committee head Peter] Ueberroth said he saw the list. At the top was China.

His response was to assemble a team of envoys who could appeal to officials in undecided countries and persuade them to come. Lee, a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who is not Chinese but speaks fluent Mandarin, took a small group to China. Ueberroth asked a woman on his staff, Agnes Mura, to lead a group to Romania; she had been born there. Ueberroth went to Cuba.

“People think of the Olympics as a corporate structure,” said Bob Ctvrtlik, who played for the United States volleyball team at the ’84 Games and is now a member of the International Olympic Committee. “It really is not. It relies on relationships. It relies on trust. It relies on people who can cut through cultural differences and find common ground. That was the brilliance of that program.”


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