New Zealand had feared it would be the subject of a boycott at the Moscow Olympic Games rather than supporting an American-led boycott, says a diplomat.

Robert Muldoon's administration supported a boycott called for by United States president Jimmy Carter in response to Russia invading Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 and used every available tactic to try to stop Kiwi athletes competing.

In the end, only four of the original 98 athletes named made it to Moscow - Brian Newth, the flagbearer, who competed in the modern pentathlon (equestrian, fencing, pistol shooting, swimming and cross country running), and the canoe team of Alan Thompson, Ian Ferguson and Geoff Walker.

In response to Newth breaking his silence last week about the bullying he was subjected to, Stuart Prior told the Herald that New Zealand embassy in Moscow had expected New Zealand to be the subject of a boycott.


Prior, who was based in the embassy in Moscow from 1978 to 1980, described New Zealand's support of the boycott by the United Sates, as "a profound irony".

"The reality was that New Zealand could well have been banned by the Russians had the Africans protested to Moscow as a group - and we (and Wellington) were on alert for just that."

Brian Newth at home with his competition singlet. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Brian Newth at home with his competition singlet. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"I well recall that there was a pre-Olympic regatta in Tallinn to which New Zealand was not invited. The question was - was this a foretaste of a future problem? As ever, the Soviet/Russian answer re Tallinn was opaque."

The Soviets had made colossal investments to make those Moscow games a success, cleaning the city and stocking the shops with goods that Russians ordinarily would never see, said Prior, who lives in Wellington where he is honorary consul for Belarus.

"For this reason, not having a couple of dozen African countries there would have been a big, big issue for the Kremlin, as Africa was a continent where they felt they were doing well politically."

"So, if push had come to shove, chances are that we'd have been banned - righteous indignation from Wellington to follow. I still muse on the question of what would PM Muldoon have done had Afghanistan not have happened and the Soviets had declared the NZ team personae non grata! "

The pressure endured by Newth not to go included an approach by a Government minister to his employer which Newth interpreted as an attempt to have him sacked if he insisted on competing in Moscow.