The boycott -- and costs -- of the 1980 Moscow Olympics have forced world leaders to rethink an ancient idea: holding the games at one permanent "nonpolitical" site, preferably built by the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics in 1996.
The International Olympic Committee plans to inspect the classical site of Olympia in western Greece June 12 as one possibility. More than 1,200 acres has been offered by the Greek government as a neutral sports state. A final decision will be made in 1981.
In 1976 the Montreal site, which quadrupled in planned costs to $1.5 billion and was barely finished in time, showed that the Olympics may be a luxury that the free world can hardly afford, even though a number of cities still hope someday to have their names trumpeted across global airwaves as a host city.
Los Angeles, which won the 1984 summer games because it was the only bidder, sought to learn from the Montreal experience. It requested, and was granted, permission from the IOC to have private industry help finance the games. This precedent for commercial sponsorship may influence future Olympics.
The controversy over the Moscow games has increased speculation that the Olympics might return permanently to Greece. The idea was endorsed by the Greek government in 1976 and by President Carter this year. A permanent Olympic site could cut costs, reduce the risk of incomplete facilities and mute the excessive nationalism that sometimes grips the host city.
Moscow's nearly $3 billion investment in this year's Olympics treats the city as if a natural catastrophe were about to hit. All cars and trucks not registered in the city are to be banned during the games. Dissidents, drunks, and others the Kremlin perceives as troublemakers are being removed.
Officials had expected some 12,000 athletes and about 300,000 visitors, about 10 times the normal tourist flow. But as the list of boycotting countries grows , it becomes more difficult to estimate how many tourists are likely to show up.
Greece itself may not be neutral enough for the IOC's new interest in a permanent site. The political instability of the Greek government, its connection with NATO, its lack of winter sports, and the nearness of its enemy Turkey may in the end rule out Olympia's revival. And carving an international enclave out of western Greece today might be too costly for many nations, perhaps leaving it up to the United States to foot the multi-billion dollar bill.
Other possible permanent sites under consideration include a sports village the Greeks are building outside Athens for the Pan-European games in 1982.Swiss officials suggest St. Moritz, home to the 1928 and 1948 Winter Games. The IOC has its headquarters in Switzerland, but the Swiss people voted down the 1976 games overwhelmingly.
Another possibility is Helsinki, a city with ties to both East and West. And rotation of the games among three or four permanent facilities is also being studied.
Yet support for continuing the present system of rotating the Olympics site, which spreads athletics worldwide, is still strong. "If you're always meeting in the church hall, it's not the same as meeting in someone's home," says Boston University sport psychologist John Cheffers.