Behind the pomp, speeches, and choir music runs a fundamental question: Can world sports and world politicians work out a relationship that satisfies both? Right now, as a result of Soviet troops fighting in remote Afghanistan, both worlds are sharply critical of the other. Lord Killanin, outgoing president of the International Olympic Committee, leaves office after eight years urging the IOC to allow time "for the dust to settle."
He wants the choice of the city to host the 1988 games to be deferred until 1982, and he repeats his wish that the world might be able to revert to the ancient Greek tradition of declaring a truce between states during the games, so they can concentrate on what unites, not divides, them.
But historians say that ancient truce was often broken. And Lord Killanin recognized that the world remains filled with conflict as he spoke at times sorrowfully, at times defiantly, during the opening of the IOC annual meeting in Moscow on the eve of the 22nd summer games.
Not once did he mention the word "boycott" or "Afghanistan." But the US-led boycott, which is keeping some 50 countries and 100,000 Western tourists away from Moscow, was uppermost in his mind as he stood, silver haired and patrician, on the stage of the crimson and gold Bolshoi theater.
On the one hand he condemned politicians who "continue to make use of sport for their own ends" -- a clear reference to President Carter. He denied Moscow had been awarded the games for political reasons. Politics, he said, must be removed from the Olympics. He deeply regretted that "many athletes, either through political dictation or the dictates of their own consciences, are not here with us at the games."
He added that the reverberations of "recent months" would be felt in the Olympic movement for some years to come -- a remark that contradicted statements by the head of the Soviet Olympic Committee, Sergei Pavlov. Mr. Pavlov praised the strength of the Olympics despite "forces in the world which seek to destroy the Olympic movement."
On the other hand, Lord Killanin said he had never denied some relationship between sports and politics. Government could assist sports in many ways. And he himself felt "there has been too much chauvinism, flag-waving, and anthem-playing at the games."
Lord Killanin also indicated the games were getting too big. He said the idea of a permanent games site in Greece was under study. He said he hoped women would be considered for IOC membership.
Mr. Pavlov praised Soviet sports policies and games preparations. The IOC annual meeting was declared open by Vasily Kuznetsov, deputy Soviet Chief of State.