France off and running to Moscow Olympics

It seems unlikely the French government will now try to block its nation's athletes from participating in the Moscow summer Olympics. Members of the National Olympic Committee have made it clear that they were keeping the French government informed of the decision to go to Moscow all along. The government apparently has no objections.

"The French government," says committee president Claude Collard, "has made its position clear up to now. That it is for the National Olympic Committee to decide. We've decided. If the French government wants to say something else now, we will wait for them to say it."

Although Mr. Collard stressed May 14 that the Olympic Committee's decision is based purely on sports considerations, it dovetails nicely with official French thinking. The Soviet Union has been putting heavy pressure on France to attend the games. During his recent visit here, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko tantalizingly talked about important trade deals that were in the process of being negotiated.

The French are also concerned about their heavy investments in Africa. East Germany has been aiding several African revolutionary movements, and Russia could exert influence in calming the situation down.

French President Giscard d'Estaing has maintained all along that there is everything to gain by keeping a dialogue open with the Russians. He believes the kind of sanctions favored by President Carter will only force the Russians into following a harder line, without really doing anything to better the situation in Afghanistan.

The May 13 decision to support the Moscow Olympics came as no surprise. "The decision we took," Mr. Collard says, "was influenced very much by the moral state of our athletes. We could not continue to leave them in doubt."

A total of 22 out of 23 committee members voted to support the games. There was one abstention. In prior consultations, 17 out of France's 23 Olympic federations expressed support for the Moscow games. Four Olympic federations said they would like the decision to be postponed. Two federations -- equestrian and marksmanship -- said that they would not go. The decision by the French National Equestrian Federation not to attend the games is based primarily on the fact that most countries with important equestrian teams are expecting to participate in the boycott.

The French National Marksmanship Federation may decide to reconsider its decision in face of the overwhelming decisions to participate taken by the other French federations.

With the French National Olympic Committee's decision now clear, the names of leading French athletes are expected to be submitted to Moscow by May 24, the final deadline.

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