'Free World Games' face high hurdles

A long lane of hurdles could block President Carter's sprinting effort to support an alternative "Free World Olympics" for athletes from nations boycotting the Summer Games in Moscow.

Since the the Kremlin paid no heed to Mr. Carter's deadline for withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan by Feb. 20, the United States now is committed to finding a site -- or sites -- for an alternate form of competition among the three dozen or so countries that have told the White House they will likely not participate in 1980 Summer Olympics.

But a major hurdle to holding such a counter-competition, contend private American athletic officials, is the unlikelihood of getting approval for such an event from each of the international federations that tightly control amateur athletics in the 26 sports staged at the Olympics.

In track and field, for instance, the US would have to get a majority of the nations in the International Amateur Athletic Federation to agree to allow the alternative games.

If American athletes were to participate in an international event without approval from the federations, officials say, the US could be barred from all future world competition. International rules also generally do not allow two world competitions at the same time.

Amateur athletic officials in the US are angry that President Carter did not consult them before proposing the alternative games. And they report that American athletes, their morale low because of the boycott of the Moscow games, are unlikely to be eager to compete in any alternative event this year.

In addition to the political problems, however, just the logistics of planning a new world athletic event so quickly makes it highly improbable that a "Free World Olympics" could be staged, athletic officials say. "It's more complicated than organizing a burlap-bag foot race for a Sunday picnic," one coach said. Normally, Olympic Games take six years to plan.

White House officials, however, hope to scatter the events over "three or four continents," using television to tie the games together for the fans back home. Negotiations to line up facilities are just beginning.

The leftover Olympic sites of Montreal (from 1976) and Munich (1972) are seen as possibilities, but have not been lined up yet.

For a few individual sports, finding facilities can be difficult. In weight-lifting, for instance, American officials are not sure where a stage can be found that would take 1000-pound barbells dropping on it. The $7,000 stage for the 1978 world weight-lifting championships held in Pennsylvania was dismantled and the lumber sold.

The organizer of the largest US event in track and field, James Tuppeny at the University of Pennsylvania, where the yearly Penn Relays are held for 25,000 athletes, says that sponsoring a counter-Olympics from scratch would take a year.

Several cities in the US have been suggested as sites for the games, although White House officials say they want to avoid the political implications of using US sites for a significant portion of the games. The suggested cities include Boston, Philadelphia, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

In April, the US Olympic Committee will meet to decide whether to sponsor a "national sports festival" in 1980 as it has done in the past two non-Olympic years. "But as far as we're concerned, there is no alternative to the Olympics, " says committee spokesman Dennis Keegan.

Many American athletes, unsure of whether they will be competing, have stopped training, coaches say. In swimming, the Olympic trials have been canceled and a meet between West Germany and the US has been rescheduled to coincide with the Olympics in July.

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