Aussie boycott boomerangs

Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser is facing increasing difficulties in delivering the Australian boycott of the Moscow Olympics he had promised to President Carter.

Mr. Fraser is facing resistance both from the official sporting bodies who will make the final decision on Australian attendance at the Olympics and from his political opponents.

Public opinion has swung from strong support for the boycott to strong disapproval within a few weeks.

The Prime Minister is attempting to strengthen his position by encouraging speculation that some (and possible a great many) sports of an alternative world games could be held in Australia -- with Melbourne, site of the 1956 Olympics, as the principal site.

As yet, however, there has been no indication that either the sporting bodies concerned or the public have become more receptive to the idea of the Olympic boycott.

Mr. Fraser's difficulties with public opinion stem from a traditional Australian reluctance to let politics "interfere" with sport and from his government's response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Mr. Fraser has been at the forefront of moves to express displeasure at the Russian actions in Afghanistan through trade and other boycotts. His government announced bans on cultural, scientific, and educational exchanges with the Soviet Union. It abandoned proposed new joint fishing ventures and refused to sell additional wheat to the Soviet Union to make up for cancelled US wheat contracts. In has also stopped sales of strategic minerals.

However, on Mr. Fraser's return from overseas, the government lifted virtually all trade bans (except for additional sales in wheat) and made it clear it would not impose bans on wool sales. This led to opposition and news media attacks on the government for being hypocritical and inconsistent. The Labor Party claimed that sportsmen, academics, and scientists were being forced to carry the weight of Australia's protests against the Soviets, while more affluent farmers, ranchers, and miners were free to trade.

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