Afghan foul may cost USSR Olympics

The latest round of international hammer-throwing over Afghanistan has raised serious questions about the 1980 Olympic games, scheduled to open in Moscow in July.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, after a Cabinent meeting Jan. 17, told the House of Commons that her government wants the games moved. "We cannot just stand back and see Russia do what they have done in Afghanistan -- deplore it, and take no action at all," she said.

Earlier, more than 100 British Members of Parliament had called for a boycott of the Moscow Olympic or for removal of the games to another site.

The European Parliament, in a session at Strasbourg plagued by electronic-voting equipment failures, threats of walkouts by translators, and standium-like noise levels, eventually boxed its way to agreement on a resolution calling for European Community member countries to reconsider holding the games in Moscow.

President Carter says he wants the games moved out of Moscow unless the Russians backpedal out of Afghanistan by mid-February. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, agreeing, said Jan. 15 that if the US administration called for the boycott "our citizens would fellow that view."

So far, the various athletic associations have vigorously defended their goal.Lord Killanin, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), sees no alternative to holding the games in Moscow. The difficulties of finding stadium facilities, housing for 15,000 athletes and coaches (which, after the murder of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972, must be secure), and assembling an administrative staff are straggeing. The committee's position is that it is "Moscow or nothing," a spokesman said.

The British Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Committee are also clinging to their batons, indicating that individual athletes, many of whom had been training for years, are solidly in favor of going ahead as planned. "As far as we are concerned at the moment, we're going and that's that," one British official said.

Technically, neither the American nor the British governments has the power to boycott the games -- short of the unthinkable move of suspending individual athletes' passport privileges.

And such arm-wrestling as they do will come up against some muscular vested interests -- such as the British Broadcasting Corporation's plans to spend L3 million ($6.6 million) broadcasting the games, and the European Broadcasting Union's plan to complement that with another than L1 million ($2.2 million.)

Canada, whose Prime Minister, Joe Clark, supports moving the games, is bruited about as a possible relocation site. The Montreal standium and facilities, built for the 1976 games at a cost of over $1 billion, are now in regular use -- the stadium for baseball, the Athlete's Village for local housing.

Nevertheless, the feeling is growing that a move would be possible if the various committees really felt it worthwhile.

Underlying the resistance to moving is the abiding conviction that sports must be kept separate from politics. The games are generally regarded as important in fostering international understanding.

But some observers dissent.They argue the politics has never been separate from sport behind the Iron Curtain, where the Western distinction between amateur and professional does not exist and where competitors are state-funded.

To slam the Soviet authorities into the penalty box, they argue, would make a strong impact on a most sensitive area: the government's political desire to be seen (especially by its own citizens) playing gracious host to dozens of approving nations. So far, however, the Soviets do not regard the boycott threat as serious, according to dispatches from Moscow.

The current cycle of games has been running since 1896 -- with the exception of the World War I and World War II years. Those interruptions are sobering. "The ancient Greeks used to stop fighting to stage the games," Avery Brundage, a former IOC chairman, once said. "Now we stop the games to stage our wars."

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