Wanted: Olympic heroes

Just as President Carter should not have delayed in calling for an international boycott of Moscow as host of the Summer Olympics, so the United States Olympic Committee should not now delay in supporting this gesture against the brutal Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The committee's house of delegates has an opportunity at its meeting this weekend to decline its invitation to the Moscow games without waiting until the May 24 deadline for acceptance. It should, of course, be careful to do so in a proper procedural manner, causing no harm to the institution of the Olympic Games or future US participation in them. Yet to Moscow and the world the message would be clear.

Mr. Carter originally delayed calling for the boycott by saying he would demand it if the Soviets did not withdraw from Afghanistan within a month. Yet, if the Soviet aggression was bad enough to bring a boycott at all -- and it was -- Moscow should not have been allowed another month of slaughter and oppression before the US registered its abhorrence by one of the few peaceful but dramatic means open to it. Indeed, even without Afghanistan, Moscow's domestic repression and foreign interference had rendered it unfit for the world prestige conferred by being the site for the Olympics.

At any rate, Moscow was unlikely to withdraw from Afghanistan under pressure. Its subsequent troubles in battening down Afghanistan for its puppet regime suggest that it is no more likely to be gone by the Olympic deadline next month. It remains unfit to be an Olympic host, as all nations loving peace and freedom ought to let it know by refusing to honor it as such.

We share the deep concern of many for the teams and individual athletes who have worked hard to reach the summit skills of Olympic competition. But by not going to games exploited by a totalitarian regime they would be victims not of their own boycotting governments but of Moscow -- and victims of a different order from those bleeding and dying in Afghanistan.

They also would be heroes. Their heroism would be of the difficult self-effacing sort that postpones or even gives up the most cherished personal goals for the larger goal of resisting tyranny in the interest of humankind.

At the same time, no slightest taint of tyrannical methods should sully the American process in its shining contrast with the Soviet system. It would be contrary not only to American principles but to the Helsinki declaration under which Moscow is so often criticized for Washington to act as some have suggested and enforce a boycott by revoking athletes' passports.

Indeed, the force of the gesture of staying away from Moscow would be diminished if it were not a voluntary act of conscience by athletes responding to the feelings of their fellow citizens and standing tall against the aggressor.

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