The United Nations secretary-general, Dr Waldheim and the Commonwealth secretary-general, Mr Shridath Ramphal, last night urged African nations to end their boycott of the Olympic Games in Montreal.
In separate statements issued after a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, they also called for efforts by the International Olympic Committee and all nations to resolve what Mr Ramphal called “issues of legitimate concern to African and other States.”
More than 20 African and Arab countries are boycotting the Olympics in protest against the participation of New Zealand, which has sporting links with South Africa. Dr Waldheim said he recognised the “deep and genuine concerns” felt by African states. “At the same time I wish to point out that the Olympic Games have become an occasion of special significance in mankind’s search for brotherhood and understanding.”
Mr Ramphal said the success of the Montreal Games through maximum participation could contribute greatly to the “propitious resolution of the wider questions” to which attention had quite properly been drawn by the boycott.
Countries which have announced their withdrawal or are assumed to have withdrawn because of New Zealand’s participation are: Algeria, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Malagasy Republic, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Upper Volta, and Zambia.
Egypt’s withdrawal was reported by the official Middle East News Agency. Dr Abdel-Hamid Hassan, chairman of the Higher Council for Youth and Sports, had sent the team a message asking them to return. Earlier it had been reported from Montreal that the Egyptian team would take part in the Games after missing Saturday’s opening ceremony. Egypt’s Olympic team, was taken by surprise last night that the government had ordered it to return home.
John Rodda reports from Montreal:
Uncertainty and confusion follow the withdrawal from the opening ceremony of the African nations plus Iraq. Cameroon, who took part in the parade, announced their withdrawal afterwards.
Apparently no one in the Cameroon party though to tell its cycling team, which competed anyway. It was that sort of day. No one knew if his opponent would show up or not. The four Cameroon cyclists laboriously pedalled around the track in the 100 kilometre time trial just as team officials were announcing their country’s withdrawal from the Games.
At the boxing arena, competitors gloved up and stepped into the ring to be acclaimed victors without throwing a punch. At two soccer stadiums, ticket-holders were given their money back because of the withdrawals of Nigeria and Zambia.
The persistent politics of the Olympics are both propaganda and protest. In the past, the United States and the Soviet Union were able through the medal tables to channel their political rivalry into athletic arenas. Latterly East Germany and Cuba, for example, have made it plain through their remarkable athletes and national training programmes that not just athletes but also international standing are at stake too. African athletes, too, have been making an impressive impact on the world. For that reason alone, the decision by African states to boycott the games in protest against the All Blacks current rugby tour of South Africa could not have been taken easily.