Golden boy Coe defied Thatcher to compete in Moscow Olympics

YORKSHIRE Olympic champion Lord Sebastian Coe deliberately defied orders from the very top of government to boycott the Moscow 1980 games, top-secret documents made public today have revealed.

Lord Coe, who grew up in Sheffield and spearheaded London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympic games, chose to compete in the USSR, despite calls for a boycott over its invasion of Afghanistan the previous year during the height of the Cold War.

He went on to clinch gold in the 1,500m, beating fierce rival and fellow Englishman Steve Ovett.

But new disclosures released today by the National Archives under the 30-year rule of the Official Secrets Act, show Lord Coe and his fellow British athletes were directly contradicting government policy by competing in Moscow.

In a series of letters to the British Olympic Association (BOA) Margaret Thatcher warned it would be "against British interests and wrong" for them to compete and urges the boycotting of the games.

In one letter to Sir Denis Follows, chair of the BOA, the Prime Minister said that attending the event would not be in British interests.

She said: "The Games will serve the propaganda needs of the Soviet Government. There is no effective palliative, such as cutting out the ceremonies.

"I remain firmly convinced that it is neither in our national interest nor in the wider Western interest for Britain to take part in Games in Moscow.

"As a sporting event, the Games cannot now satisfy the aspirations of our sportsmen and women. British attendance in Moscow can only serve to frustrate the interests of Britain."

In another letter to Kenneth Short of the Amateur Boxing Association, she wrote: "I have advised British sportsmen and women and their sporting federations that it would be against British interests and wrong for them to compete in Moscow."

Mrs Thatcher also wrote to the then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, speaking of her "regret" at the BOA's decision not to boycott the games, while memos sent between the Department of Trade and the Prime Minister's private secretary even discussed banning a request by the Russian airline Aeroflot to put on an extra 18 charter flights for spectators.

Many countries, including the US and West Germany, boycotted the games after the Soviet 40th army marched into Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 in support of the pro-Soviet regime.

But the British government was powerless to stop British athletes competing if they so wished.

The revelations from the National Archives also show British and American spies were secretly discussing plans to arm the Afghan Mujahidin fighters within weeks of the Soviet invasion with senior officials talking of plans for an "Islamic resistance".

At a secret meeting on January 15, 1980, to discuss the West's response to the invasion, Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong said that support for the Mujahidin should be co-ordinated by "our friends" – a Whitehall euphemism for MI6 – and other Western intelligence agencies.

Sir Robert reported that while they wanted to avoid sparking a war with Pakistan, there was much they could do to "encourage and support the resistance".

He said: "That would make more difficult the process of Soviet pacification of Afghanistan, and would make that process take much longer than it otherwise would; and the existence of a guerilla movement in Afghanistan would be the focus of Islamic resistance, which we should be wanting to continue."

Reagan 'lacked mental vitality'

DESPITE Mrs Thatcher's famed special relationship with Ronald Reagan, British diplomats feared he lacked the "mental vitality" to be an effective US President.

Papers released today show the British ambassador Sir Nicholas Henderson questioned whether the 69-year-old former Hollywood actor was really up to the job after Mr Reagan's "egregious errors" during his election campaign.

He wrote: "Ronald Reagan believes there are simple (not to be confused with easy) answers to complex problems. The main worry about him, however, is not just age but whether he possesses the mental vitality and political vision necessary to cope with the acute and changing problems, national and international, of governing this vast, and in some ways ungovernable, country."