Philip Barker

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) are set to meet virtually next week for the first time "to respect the measures being implemented to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Their online gathering "on a secure electronic system" will replace the full Session which was to have been held in Tokyo. On the simplest level, it will save a small fortune in accommodation and travel costs.

It is a sharp contrast with the session held in Moscow 40 years ago almost to the day, when no expense was spared.

Back then, Soviet Union organisers claimed "there is every reason to consider the Session a milestone event in Olympic history.

"It's decisions carried more import than many of its predecessors because they had been made on the eve of the Games in Moscow."

Seventy-seven voting IOC members, all of them men, gathered in the splendid surroundings of the Bolshoi Theatre. 

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev did not make the opening speech.

Instead, Vasili Kuznetsov, first Deputy President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR told the gathering: "The Soviet people hold dear and share the noble Olympic ideals.

"Allow me to express a hope that the decisions to be taken by you will provide a new momentum to the expansion of international co-operation in sports, further spreading of the noble Olympic ideals, strengthening of mutual understanding and friendship among peoples and of world peace."

Soviet National Olympic Committee President Sergei Pavlov warned: "At present the problem of defending the Olympic Movement is especially urgent.

"Today as never before, all of us feel that there are forces in the world which seek to destroy the Olympic Movement, to prevent the holding of the Olympic Games."

This was a reference to a bitter boycott campaign led by United States President Jimmy Carter.

IOC President Lord Killanin had decided to step down after an eight year term which had taken a toll on his health and may well have contributed to a heart attack.

At least one member had tried to persuade him to change his mind but to no avail.

"I have always endeavoured to avoid politics in my opening speeches at Sessions, and I regret that political overtones were introduced at the opening of the 82nd Session in Lake Placid earlier this year," said Killanin.

"This, I believe, was counter-productive."

A scene from the opening of the 1980 IOC Session in Moscow ©Olympic Panorama
A scene from the opening of the 1980 IOC Session in Moscow ©Olympic Panorama

Killanin’s words recalled the highly politicised speech by US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in Lake Placid earlier in the year.

Next week’s virtual Session will see five new IOC members inducted but that was not the case in 1980.

Killanin noted: "A feeling among members that the IOC was becoming too large."

For this reason he did not know whether this was a suitable moment to elect new members.

No new members but a new President in an election listed on the agenda as item number eight.

There were initially five candidates, but New Zealander Lance Cross pulled out on the day.

This left Munich 1972 organising chief Willi Daume, International Ski Federation President Marc Hodler, Executive Board member James Worrall of Canada and Juan Antonio Samaranch, who had been Spanish Ambassador in Moscow for the preceding three years.

The vote was decisive and "by overall majority on the first round of voting", Samaranch was elected as the new President.

It was to be the last time that a new IOC President would be elected in an Olympic year.

The vote had been taken on July 16, the day before Samaranch turned 60.

"I want to tell you that I intend to follow the path blazed by Lord Killanin and I expect cooperation from all IOC members, director Monique Berlioux, International Federations, National Olympic Committees and all of you media representatives upholding the Olympic ideas," he said.

Rather uncharitably, The Times newspaper likened him to former British Prime Minister Clement Attlee who had once been described as "the kind of man who might emerge from an empty taxi.

"He is unimposing physically and has no special presence."

The assessment grossly underestimated his impact on the Olympic Movement.

Many feel he totally transformed it in his 21 year tenure which ended in 2001 at the Session which was also held in Moscow.

Spain's Juan Antonio Samaranch was elected IOC President at the Session in 1980, a post he held for 21 years ©Getty Images
Spain's Juan Antonio Samaranch was elected IOC President at the Session in 1980, a post he held for 21 years ©Getty Images

The 1980 Olympics were to open a couple of days later and Organising Committee supremo Ignati Novikov made his last pre-Games report.

He later recalled the IOC members were "unanimous in their admiration of those who had built or renovated the sports facilities.

"What is more, some representatives from countries whose athletes were forbidden to come to Moscow spoke very warmly about the organisers’ record.

"By unanimously approving Moscow’s record and acclaiming its contribution to the Olympic Movement, it intends to steer a course free from political arm twisting towards unity, a course of peace and understanding. 

"We started and ended with applause."

Although there was no US team, some American officials were present in Moscow at the Session.

US Olympic Committee legal adviser Patrick Sullivan revealed a deficit of nearly $8 million (£6.5 million/€7 million) after the Games in Lake Placid.

The 1984 Summer Olympic Games were also to be held in the US.

The IOC members also discussed what sports should be included. 

Women’s cycling, rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming were given the green light.

In athletics, a women’s 3,000 and 400 metres hurdles were added.

IOC Programme Commission chairman Arpad Csanadi reported that the IOC’s own Medical Commission "had no objection to the women’s marathon" but the decision was left to the Executive Board.

A group of seven from the Los Angeles Organising Committee (LAOOC) led by President Peter V. Ueberroth made their report.

"We knew we’d be treated as outcasts, we were being ignored by most of the Olympic family," he wrote later.

Synchronised swimming was among the sports added to the Olympic programme at the IOC Session in 1980 ©Getty Images
Synchronised swimming was among the sports added to the Olympic programme at the IOC Session in 1980 ©Getty Images

Ueberroth caused concern when he announced that the Athletes' Village would be spread across the campuses of two Los Angeles universities.

In fact a third university campus would eventually be used.

The "Stars in Motion" logo for the Games was accepted by the IOC and became a familiar and popular symbol.

Ueberroth also outlined plans for a demonstration baseball tournament. 

The Marquess of Exeter was concerned that "demonstrations in the past had comprised only two teams and were not competitions as such.

"A clear distinction had to be made," he said.

Even so, baseball was accepted and a few years later became a fully fledged Olympic sport.

After Los Angeles 1984, Ueberroth became Commissioner for Baseball in the US.

There had already been considerable debate about flags at the Session.

The Olympic rules had already been altered to allow nations to use an Olympic flag instead of their national flag in Moscow, if they wished.

Finnish member Paavo Honkajuuri repeated the proposal made at Lake Placid for all nations to use the Olympic flag.

Before the Session ended, a problem loomed for the Closing Ceremony of the Games.

Protocol called for three flags to be raised.

Greece, to represent the origins of the Olympics, the Soviet flag for the present hosts, and the Stars and Stripes for the immediate future.

 US Presidential aide Lloyd Cutler sent a letter to IOC director Monique Berlioux.

"This stated that the United States strongly objected to any use of the national flag and its national anthem during the entire Games in Moscow," she told insidethegames.

"I had studied the rules and discovered that the French and English version differed. 

"One stated that during the Closing Ceremony "the flag of the organising city", the other version "the flag of the country of the organising city."

"There resided the solution, I thought."

Juan Antonio Samaranch replaced Lord Killanin, who stepped down as IOC President at the Session in 1980 ©Getty Images
Juan Antonio Samaranch replaced Lord Killanin, who stepped down as IOC President at the Session in 1980 ©Getty Images

Berlioux conferred with Ueberroth who telephoned Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. He sent a city flag to Moscow.

Russian member Vitaly Smirnov now complained "that the United States Government was imposing conditions on the Moscow Organising Committee",

He reminded LAOOC: "The Mayor of the city of Moscow would be handing over the Olympic flag to Los Angeles representatives at the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad."

In fact, after the 1984 Soviet boycott, it was handed over by IOC vice-president Louis Girandou N’Diaye.

LAOOC’s party left Moscow immediately after the Session, so Ueberroth was not present to see the red, green and gold city flag hoisted.

"Getting the political cold shoulder made me uncomfortable and if the American athletes weren’t there, we shouldn’t be there either," he wrote later.

Lord Killanin lamented a lost opportunity for LAOOC to observe Games operations at first hand.

"It is the city of Los Angeles that will be at a disadvantage," he said.

The site for the 1988 Games was not to be chosen until the following year, but the IOC considered a proposal for a permanent Olympic site in Greece. 

This had been made by Konstantinos Karamanlis, the new Greek President.

An IOC Commission headed by vice-president N’Diaye visited Greece and flew by helicopter over the proposed sites. The Commission continued their work, but perhaps inevitably, the proposal was eventually rejected.

By coincidence, an Olympic institution which did have a permanent seat in Greece was given an award in 1980.

The Olympic Order was presented to Otto Szymiczek, the Dean of the International Olympic Academy in Ancient Olympia. He had committed much of his  life to promoting Olympic education.