The 'Olympics' of non-Olympic sports

An Olympic-like competition unsaturated by politics and unencumbered by mind-boggling construction costs is an achievable goal, or so think the organizers of the inaugural World Games, to be hatched in July 1981 in Santa Clara, Calif.

The idea for these games has been incubating since 1974, when the federations of various non-Olympic sports decided to join forces and create their own international showcase.

This is the thread will hold together a rather odd assortment of sports, everything from badminton and bodybuilding to softball and roller skating.

Olympic sports are not excluded, a fact that accounts for boxing's appearance on the agenda. Yet "charter, non-Olympic sports take precedence," says Hal Uplinger, a former producer for CBS-Sports who now serves as executive director of the World Games.

In other words, if only one event site were left, tug-of-war would get it over boxing. New facilities will not be build for these biennial festivals.

"The host city will never have to build any venues or villages," Mr. Uplinger explains. "If a facility does not already exist, we simply won't have the sport."

This contrasts sharply to the Olympic Games, which virtually mandate some new construction.

Besides lifting the financial burden, the World Games will seek to steer clear of excessive nationalism. There won't be a closing ceremony and no flags will be used in the opening ceremony.

In a departure from Olympic procedures, the best athletes and teams in the world will compete, not those from each country. In this regard, the games will resemble a collection of world championships, with athletes from as many as 40 countries.

A number of these countries could conceivably have only one or two representatives since some of the sports have limited international followings -- a major reason why they're not in the Olympics. "The strongest competition looks to come from the Western bloc, with the Europeans doing well," Mr. Uplinger says.

Besides those sports previously mentioned, the World Games will include: baseball, bowling, karate, powerlifting, water skiing, taekwando (a martial art) , and casting (the kind done by anglers). Synchronized swimming and tennis may be added.

If tennis came aboard, the decision about whether to go "open" and include pros as well as amateurs would be left to the International Tennis Federation.

Though bearing some resemblance to the Olympic Games, te World Games are not meant to compete with them. "Nothing can ever take the place of the Olympics," Mr. Uplinger says from his Los Angeles office.

The games, if they succeed, will always fall in non-Olympic years and will be scheduled so as not to conflict with regional competitions such as the Pan-American, Commonwealth, or Asian games.

Like the Olympics, the World Games count the promotion of fellowship among its chief aims. As a means of encouraging new friendships, athletes will be housed according to sport, and not divided up along national lines, as they are at the Olympics.

Another major objective, of course, is to bring greater visibility to sports generally overlooked, something these sports can perhaps achieve better collectively than individually.

Mr. Uplinger is currently in the "talking" stage with both cable and network television. Some of the sports may have very limited appeal to TV viewers, but others, such as baseball and roller skating, possess the mass popularity television to looks for. Roller skating, in fact, proved to be quite an attraction during its Pan-Am debut last summer.

Though ticket prices haven't been set, the intent is to keep them quite reasonalbe, encouraging spectating as much as possible.

Will the Santa Clara-San Jose area be able to handle the influx of 1,400 to 1 ,500 athletes expected on July 25, 1981, when the nine-day World Games begin? If it can't, the World Games executive committee will have plenty of advance warning. Next month's Junior Olympics, with 2,200 participants, will be an excellent dry run.

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