What Were the Friendship Games?

As an act of protest of the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles, athletes were invited to attend the Friendship Games.

What Were the Friendship Games?

Olympics boycott has been rampant throughout the history of both summer and winter Olympic Games. Reasons for protest have included human rights abuses in the host countries, objection to the inclusion or exclusion of other countries, discriminating policies by the host nations, and differences between countries. While some boycotts have been considered as principled, others have been termed as a petulant act of revenge like the boycott of 1984 by the countries in the Soviet Union spheres (later dubbed as the Eastern Bloc). The boycott of the 1984 Olympic Games by the 14 countries led to the staging of an alternative event which was dubbed the Friendship Games or Alternative Olympic Games. The Friendship Games, commonly known as Friendship-84, was held between July 2 and September 16, 1984.

The Boycott

Los Angeles was awarded the 1984 Olympic Games unopposed as no other city had bid. However, by the time the games were being held in Los Angeles, it had been 50 years since some of the most successful countries in the Olympic Games had hosted the event. The Soviet Union announced it would not take part in the1984 Olympic Games on the day the Olympic Torch Relay left New York for Los Angeles. Security concerns were given as the reason for the boycott, but many sensed political motivation. Moscow assured the IOC that it would not support any alternative games that would undermine the spirit of Olympics. On the same day the boycott was announced, a Soviet Union news agency accused the US of using the games for personal gains. Bulgaria, East Germany, Mongolia, and Vietnam were the first to join the boycott. On May 14, 1984, Poland announced that the Eastern Bloc would sponsor sports events in various countries as a substitute for the Los Angeles Olympic Games, holding them on different dates with from the Olympic Games. The Games were dubbed Friendship Games.

Participating Nations

Approximately 8,000 athletes were expected to take part in the Friendship Games, but the number was reduced to slightly over 2,300 after some countries withdrew from events. However, not even all expected participants showed up. The athletes who participated in the event were drawn from 49 countries with the majority being Soviet allies. The games were hosted in nine countries including Bulgaria, Poland, Soviet Union, Mongolia, North Korea, and Hungary among others. The games included 22 Olympic disciplines and additional non-Olympic Women’s shooting. The Soviet Union topped the medal table with 126 gold medals followed by East Germany and Bulgaria with 50 and 21 gold medals respectively. Zimbabwe, Sweden, and Finland managed a medal each which were all bronze. A total of 242 gold medal, 233 silver, and 266 bronze medals were awarded to winners of the various disciplines.

Comparison between 1984 Olympic Games and Frienship-84

Eastern Bloc athletes performed better than their Olympics counterparts. Over sixty of the Friendship Games participants would have secured medals at the Olympic Games. However, the differing conditions and equipment unjustified the comparisons between the two events. While the Friendship Games’ athletes outperformed their Olympics counterparts, they could not do the same in events after both games. The Friendship Games was more than just an event also put an avenue to political expression with the head of Soviet Union Olympic Committee terming the Los Angeles games as full of chauvinism and mass psychosis.


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