What was billed in January by President Carter as a US-led alternative to the Moscow summer Olympics is fast turning into simply dressed-up, post-Olympic competitions that most athletes would have gone to anyway.
In the wake of a 12-nation conference in Geneva March 17 and 18, the plan now emerging for countries that boycott the Olympic Games is to elevate already- scheduled world-class events to a festival status -- rather than staging the counter- Olympics first proposed by Mr. Carter.
The United States apparently has backed down from its original plan because of problems involved in staging such an event from scratch. The White House also has encountered stiff opposition from international sports federations, which refused to sanction an alternative competition that would have been held at the same time as the Olympics.
Lloyd Cutler, the President's legal adviser on the games, has begun stressing that the competition is in no way a "counter-Olympics" and will be open to all athletes, including the Soviets.
Now, according to US State Department sources, although it is expected that the post- Olympics games will be televised, there will be no special medals, no flag ceremonies, and no special anthems for the alternate competitions, which are already planned to be held at several international sites. The State Department hopes to persuade international federations of amateur sports to hold the events over a three-to-four-week period immediately following the Olympics.
However, even as the White House seeks to unify political consensus on the games, national and international sports federations are dragging their heels or even rejecting out- right their governments' stands on a boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
Countries that attended the Geneva conference -- including hardline supporters such as Britain, the Netherlands, and Australia -- are expected to contact their own national sports organizations and report back to Nelson Ledsky , who is coordinating the State Department effort, within two weeks.
In most of those 12 countries, including the United States, the boycott depends on whether the respective national Olympic committees decide not to accept the International Olympic Committee's invitation to send their teams to the Summer Games -- a decision they have until May 24 to make.
In Britain, for example, even though Parliament and the press have been solidly pro- boycott, the British Olympic Association -- incensed by what it sees as government interference -- still plans to go to the Moscow games.
The US Olympic Committee (USOC) also is opposed to the boycott and is not expected to make a final decision until April 11-13, when the committee meets to discuss Mr. Carter's proposal.
(Other countries attending the Geneva conference included Portugal -- billed as a participant -- and the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Canada, the Philippines, and Kenya -- all billed as observers).
And even though the State Department contends that timing does not pose an insurmountable hurdle because already-scheduled events will provide the framework for this summer's alternate competition, sports officials remain unconvinced.
In addition, says the USOC, athletes are hardly likely to approach such a competition with the enthusiasm they would have for the Olympics. "Activities after the games are really anticlimactic -- you've already had your big event," says a spokesman. "It's like a brunch after a party. Sure it's nice, but what counted was the party the night before."
Also unresolved is the question of television coverage for the games. Mr. Cutler announced in Geneva that there had been "many serious expressions of interest" in acquiring television rights for the games -- resulting in revenues that would be used to cover the cost of the competition.
But US network television executives reportedly remain uncommitted and even skeptical about coverage of the festival, saying only that they would study the practicality of televising such an event.