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Japanese athletes who missed boycotted 1980 Olympics get 2020 hope

This combined file photo taken in April 1980 shows Japanese judoka Yasuhiro Yamashita (L) and wrestler Yuji Takada calling for the country's participation in that year's Moscow Olympics. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (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 boycott during the Cold War be included in some way in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

    The group will solicit support until Dec. 20 before submitting the signatures to the Tokyo Games organizing committee and the Japanese Olympic Committee. The petition was announced a day after the host nation marked one year until the next Summer 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 Japanese athletes were selected to compete at the 1980 Moscow Olympics before the JOC voted to join the U.S.-led boycott in protest at 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 Japan's "phantom representatives" in 1980 before going on to win gold in the open-weight division at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, boycotted in turn by the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries.

    Yamashita met with Tokyo Games organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori 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, national judo men's 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.

    Details on how to sign the petition can be found on the Japan Sports Society's website at https://www.sports-gakkai.jp.

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