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Olympic Games

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 16 April 1980

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asked the Lord Privy Seal how many countries are now in agreement with Her Majesty's Government in their proposals for an Olympic Games boycott.

The number is increasing all the time. The latest information available suggests that about 30 Governments have publicly announced that they are in favour of a boycott or have expressed serious reservations about their athletes taking part.

Is the Minister aware that many of us who were deeply unhappy about the holding of the Moscow Olympics on human rights grounds, long before the invasion of Afghanistan or the American presidential elections, nevertheless feel that the current slogging match between the Government and the British Olympic Association will leave us with the worst of all worlds in this country, exposing deep divisions when there should be unity? Will he discuss with those athletes who have voted to go to Moscow, as is their right if they so wish, some form of unified protest by them in Moscow during the holding of the Games?

No. That ignores the fact that the Soviet Union controls the television output for the Games. There is no slogging match. We quietly and firmly reiterate our view when we are asked to do so. It must surely be increasingly clear to the hon. Gentleman that, as the tide of boycott begins to flow strongly in many sports, this will be a tawdry event, with second-rate competition.

Whatever other countries may do, will not any British athlete who goes to Moscow to compete dishonour himself and his country?

The competitors find themselves in a difficult personal situation, which has not been helped by the premature decision of the British Olympic Association to accept the Moscow invitation. We shall do what we can to help them in that situation, but we believe that it is strongly against British interests for British athletes to participate.

Should not the Government give up their attempt to blackmail our sportsmen and sports administrators? Does not the Minister find reprehensible the attempted character assassination of Sir Denis Follows, a man of the highest possible integrity, who has served sport admirably over many years?

The integrity of Sir Denis Follows is in no way in question. We disagree with his judgment about British interests in this country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this ought to be a situation in which Britain was leading the way and not merely counting how many other countries were doing this? Is it not sad that, without impugning Sir Denis Follows' character, he should commit character suicide rather than have his character assassinated because he will not understand that he has a position to uphold as a British person, and not merely as a representative of sportsmen?

I would rather not be drawn into further comment on Sir Denis Follows. I merely say that we warmly welcome the latest decision by British yachtsmen not to take part.

Will the hon. Gentleman say what compensation the Government are prepared to give to those business men who have obtained franchises for the Moscow Olympics, including Mr. McClue of Ayr, and will lose substantial amounts of money? Surely these are the people that the Government should be trying to encourage, but they will lose money as a direct result of the Government's action. What compensation will be given to them by the Government?

If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a particular case, he should do so. In principle, the Government are not liable for compensation in this matter.

Will my hon. Friend persuade the Government to take a more resolute attitude towards those British members who still wish to go to Moscow and point out that if they go they could distinguish themselves by being almost the only representatives in Moscow from any free country in the world?

It is true that the tide towards a boycott is flowing strongly and that the competition, sport by sport, will now be second-rate in many respects. For example, the United States' swimmers won 13 gold medals at the last Olympic Games. A swimming competition without American participation is certainly a second-rate affair.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, whatever position individual Members have taken in regard to the Olympics, many of us—even those of us who have strong views—find utterly distasteful and disgusting the attempt by members of the Government to brand individual sportsmen in Britain as dishonourable or as if they were disloyal in making their personal decisions? Will he therefore confirm that no impediment or difficulty, administrative or bureaucratic, will be put in the way of individuals making their own choice and going to Moscow if they wish to do so?

I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's account of what has been taking place. We have made it clear that it is a matter for choice in a free country whether people go. We have also made it clear, and shall go on making clear, our judgment as the British Government where British interests lie. We hope that as many individuals as posible will follow that advice.