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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Muhammad Ali's Africa Tour and the 1980 Olympics

In response to the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the United States decided to boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. President Jimmy Carter decided to have Muhammad Ali go on a five nation tour to convince African leaders to also boycott the Olympics. Ali was against the Soviet Union’s actions in Afghanistan and he was a popular figure in Africa, so for Carter this move seemed pretty logical. The five nations that Ali would visit were Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, and Senegal. The United States government was at the time more concerned about this invasion that they were with the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The general consensus on this decision seems to be that this was a bad diplomatic move on Carter’s part. Some officials in Tanzania questioned why Muhammad Ali was sent on a diplomatic mission and one questioned if the United States would have sent Chris Evert to London to talk with the British.
It also didn’t help matters that Ali was poorly prepared for such a task and that some of the African leaders he encountered were not easily convinced. In Tanzania, Julius Nyerere had resented America’s boycott of the Olympics on the grounds that the American government ignored African desires for America trade sanctions against South Africa. There was also the fact that when African leaders boycotted the 1976 Olympics, America failed to show their support.
Furthermore, the Soviet Union was actually supporting many of the liberation movements in South Africa—a fact that Ali was unaware of. Many Africans began to view Ali as being an American puppet, but Ali maintained that he was not there to defend America’s position on South Africa. Ali now found himself facing allegations that he was a government puppet, to which he responded that he was nobody’s Uncle Tom.
Though Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Alhaji Shehu Shagari of Nigeria refused to see Ali, Ali fared much better in Liberia and Kenya. Kenya did not participate in the Moscow Olympics and Liberia supported the boycott until the assassination of President William Tolbert. Ali was also warmly welcomed by Léopold Senghor in Senegal, though Senegal had a policy of keeping sports separate from politics, and they had participated in the 1976 Olympics. The United States had failed to support Africa’s desires for more sanctions against South Africa, but they expected to have Africa’s support against the Soviet Union and Ali was essentially used as a puppet to support American interests and hypocrisy.

SOURCE: HubPages