Muddled Allegiances at the Games

FOR two weeks now, the peerless United States men's Olympic basketball squad (alias the Dream Team) has demonstrated its superiority over a 12-team field in Barcelona. Collecting the gold medal Saturday rates as nothing more than a formality. But which American players will collect them, and in what manner? Those questions momentarily provided a modicum of suspense.

Michael Jordan, who has a major sponsorship deal with Nike, indicated that he might refuse to wear the official Olympic US sweatsuit, made by Reebok, to the medal ceremony. Now, however, it appears that this intramural squabble has been resolved.

After a meeting between USA Basketball and the US Olympic Committee, a compromise was reached. Jordan and fellow Nike endorser Charles Barkley will wear the Reebok warmups, but they may choose to do so in a manner that does not reveal any commercial identification: Without defacing the corporate logo, they can open the collar so that it does not show.

With the Olympic doors open to multimillionaire professional athletes, more commercial skirmishes are bound to occur. Superstars may feel little allegiance to a national Olympic governing body, but it is important for them to go along with the rules set forth to govern athletic delegations during the brief space of the Games. Otherwise, an upstairs-downstairs division will soon exist among athletes at the Olympics, with the upstairs camp following their own rules.

Under present regulations, the Olympics do not allow advertising in stadiums, but in a concession to current standards of commercialism, a degree of manufacturer identification on clothing and equipment is permissible. For example, clothing labels no larger than 12 square centimeters can be warn.

This wouldn't seem a lot of turf on which to wage an advertising battle, but apparently it's enough in the increasingly high-stakes game of "pin your message on the Olympics."

Commercial allegiances, however, are not what the Olympics are all about, and those who loudly uphold them only divert attention from their own achievements.

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