Athletes against Moscow

The United States Olympic Committee challenges the conscience of athletes the world over with its two-to-one vote to decline its invitation to the Moscow Olympics. A US athlete expressed a genuine Olympic magnanimity when he said he would not expect contenders from other countries to deprive themselves of hard-won participation just because the Americans had done so. Yet here is an extraordinary occasion for all to refuse the hospitality of a discredited host -- not in deference to the US but in support of the peace and freedom being so blatantly violated by Moscow.

What might make some nations or their Olympic committees hang back is a lingering uncertainty about the predictability of White House actions. When the idea of an Olympic boycott in response to Moscow's invasion of Afghanistan was broached by others in Europe last year, the US did not immediately take up the cudgels for it. Later President Carter came out strongly for the boycott and for the cooperation of others in it, and there were the familiar mutterings about the allies not being sufficiently forewarned.

Now the US Olympic Committee vote has left open the possibility of going to Moscow after all if Mr. Carter should decide by May 20 that participation would no longer be a threat to US national security. Our guess is that the White House can be depended on this time when it says that there will be no change in the Carter position. Athletes from other countries can rest assured that if they go out on the limb of giving up the Summer Olympics it will not be cut off behind them by a sudden Carter change of heart.

In any case, the US national security argument was a strained and narrow one for the President to pile onto his pressure campaign of threats and promises to sway the American committee. The reported linking of the boycott vote to administration financial aid to the Olympics confuses the issue of a decision to be taken for principled reasons or not at all. It was good to hear that the head of the committee was sensitive to the problem; he said the financial compensation had been "low-keyed" in the discussion "because none of us wanted that to be the reason the decision was made."

The decision to boycott by the US -- and the countries which now cannot avoid confronting the matter -- should be seen in the largest context of what is best for the world and its Olympic tradition, not just what is best for the national interest of any single country. Whether boycotting Moscow as a site does any "good" or not -- in the sense of undercutting the Kremlin -- it is demanded as an indication of the moral sense of each country and athlete called upon to make this difficult choice.

We hope Mr. Carter will not try to pressure other nations to follow the US -- as Moscow is said to be pressuring them to stay on the guest list -- but to stick to the powers of persuasion and example. Decisions made for the wrong reasons whould be hollow and dearly bought indeed. Decisions made for sound reasons can lend strength to the Olympic movement rather than weakening it, letting it spring back with renewed vigor after the stress imposed on it by the despicable way Moscow chooses to play the international game.

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