The 1976 Olympic Games held in Montreal, Canada, are remembered in sports history as the "Black Year of Montreal." Following incidents in Mexico in 1968 and the tragedy in Munich in 1972, the Olympic committee hoped that these games would proceed without political incidents. However, this hope quickly dissipated with the boycott of 22 nations protesting the presence of New Zealand in the competition.
Led by Tanzania, Guinea, and Iraq, the African boycott denounced the presence of the New Zealand team at the sporting event. New Zealand had sent its rugby team on a tour to South Africa, a country suspended from the international community due to its racist apartheid policies.
Mali and Swaziland initially participated in the opening ceremony presided over by Queen Elizabeth II and the British royal family, but they later withdrew from the Games. Cameroon, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia participated in the early days of the events but later withdrew their delegations.
This decision led to the withdrawal of approximately thirty countries and 700 athletes, including favorites like Filbert Bayi and John Akii-Bua from Tanzania and Uganda, respectively. Taiwan, denied the right to use the name Republic of China, eventually boycotted the sporting event. Only Ivory Coast and Senegal were present, expressing their commitment to participating in all qualified events and experiencing the Olympic spirit.
In 1976, Angola was facing challenging times in sports. The country had gained independence in 1975, leading to a population exodus and a deficit in the sports domain. Gustavo da Conceicao, the current president of the Angolan Olympic Committee and former basketball player, recalls that in 1976, although the Angolan Olympic Committee had not yet been established, athletes were "politically united" in the boycott.
"I had an idea of what was happening; we were politically united. Our continent was experiencing a series of inhumane situations, with still-colonial relationships and racial segregation. This boycott stemmed from the politicization of a competition between New Zealand and South Africa, which was excluded from sports due to apartheid," he explains.
However, Gustavo da Conceicao admits that, from a sports perspective, they were also aware that it was too high a price for athletes deprived of the Olympic experience.
"We were aware that we could witness the sacrifice of a generation and many years of work. The Olympic Games are strategic competitions, and preparation is the result of long-term planning. It is often the only opportunity to participate because four years later, one is already older," he emphasizes.
The Angolan Olympic Committee was formed in 1979 and recognized in 1980, the year when the country participated in the Moscow Olympics without winning any medals.
In an interview with RFI, Alexandre Zandamela, a great connoisseur of Mozambican sports history, points out that if his country had participated in the Montreal Olympics, it would probably have "joined this boycott."
He recalls that "Mozambique became independent on June 25, 1975, a period marked by the massive departure of people, mainly to Portugal. People related to sports, both at the level of leaders and athletes. This fact contributed to Mozambique's early days as an independent country lacking trained professionals in sports."
The African boycott of the Montreal Olympics "completely missed Mozambique." The country was not part of the "Olympic family." The first Olympic Committee was created in the country in 1979, and it was in Moscow in 1980 that Mozambique participated in the Olympics for the first time.
"The 1976 boycott was organized by Tanzania, the birthplace of support for the armed struggle in Mozambique." Considering the proximity between these two neighboring countries and the political context of the time, "I believe that Mozambique would have joined this boycott. We were living in a very tense moment with South Africa."
Portugal: Medals despite challenges
Two years before the Montreal Olympics, in 1974, the dictatorial regime fell in Portugal. On April 25 of that year, the Carnation Revolution overthrew the regime of Marcelo Caetano, who was the last president of the "Estado Novo" (New State). In September 1968, Marcelo Caetano replaced Antonio de Oliveira Salazar at the head of the authoritarian regime.
Portugal's participation in the Montreal Olympics occurred at a time when the country faced significant economic and political challenges. An economy marked by high inflation rates and unemployment, coupled with a political landscape just emerging from a 40-year authoritarian regime.
Additionally, with the fall of the dictatorship, the independence of five African colonies was also achieved: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe. A colonial war that left deep scars.
For Portugal, 1974 brought freedom, 1975 was marked by elections, and 1976 brought the democratic constitution and Olympic medals.
On April 25, 1974, Mario Moniz Pereira, "Mr. Athletics," one of the greatest promoters of Portuguese athletics, managed to convince politicians to invest in this discipline. In 1975, the best athletes began training twice a day and were exempted from morning work. The results quickly followed the next year.
It was through the hands of the "Lord of Athletics" that Carlos Lopes emerged, the first Portuguese Olympic champion.
In Montreal, in athletics, Carlos Lopes was one of the great highlights, winning the silver medal in the 10,000 meters. On July 26, 1976, Carlos Lopes took the lead in the race from the eighth lap. Everything was going well until, just over one lap from the finish, Lasse Viren, the "Flying Finn," took the lead and won the race. A victory that raised doubts about the possible use of illicit substances. Carlos Lopes won the silver medal and the first Olympic medal in the history of Portuguese athletics.
In Canada, Carlos Lopes also made history regarding doping. After Lasse Viren's gold medal, known for his alleged blood transfusions, and the fact that he was not selected for doping control, the Portuguese athlete refused to undergo the test as a sign of protest. From that moment on, the current system came into effect: all medalists undergo tests.
On the podium of the 1976 Olympics, Armando Marques also stood. On July 20, 1976, the day he won the silver medal in Olympic shooting at the Montreal Olympics. The only Olympic medal in shooting won by a Portuguese athlete. He was only one point away from gold, won by American Donald Haldeman. He lost the event by a single target.