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Decades after Moscow boycott, petition launched to include affected Japan athletes in Tokyo Olympics

Kyodo

The Japan Sports Society began collecting signatures Thursday for a petition asking that former athletes who missed out on the 1980 Moscow Games due to Japan’s Cold War-era boycott be included in some way in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The group will solicit support until Dec. 20 before submitting the signatures to the organizing committee for the Tokyo Games and the Japanese Olympic Committee. The petition was announced a day after the host nation marked one year until the games open.

Proposals for the former athletes’ involvement in the 2020 Games include running in the Olympic torch relay and featuring in the opening ceremony.

According to the Japan Sports Society, 178 athletes were selected to compete in the 1980 Games before the JOC voted to join the U.S.-led boycott protesting the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

In a survey of the former athletes conducted two years ago, 82 percent said Japan “should not have boycotted” the games and that they still feel distressed by the JOC’s decision nearly 40 years later.

The JOC’s new chief, former judoka Yasuhiro Yamashita, was one of the country’s “phantom representatives” in 1980 before going on to win gold in the open-weight division at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The 1984 Games were boycotted in turn by the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries.

Yamashita met with Yoshiro Mori, Tokyo Games organizing committee president, earlier this month and made a formal request for the former athletes’ inclusion in 2020.

The petition has already gathered 30 high-profile names, including Yasushi Akashi, former undersecretary-general of the United Nations, men’s national judo team coach Kosei Inoue, and former NBA player Yuta Tabuse.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, a former Olympic fencer who represented West Germany at the time of the Moscow Games boycott, has also thrown his support behind the idea.