Controversial Olympics ready to roll
Moscow — Flags flutter, stadiums gleam, new flower beds are a riot of color against freshly planted lawns, policemen speak phrases in English, soldiers and the KBG are everywhere, athletes in brilliantly colored track suits run, jump, shoot arrows, row, and hurl puts and basketballs in practice sessions.
After six months of unprecedented controverysy, in which international sport and superpower diplomacy collided head- on, the 1980 Moscow Olypics have come to pass -- but has circumstance this time outweighed pomp?
Has the US-inspired boycott movement actually worked?
The United States and its supporters reply, emphatically, yes. The Soviet Union and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reply, just as resolutely, no.
It's a question individuals the world over will have answer for themselves. The opposing arguments dominate private discussions here as the games get under way.
"No, the boycott hasn't worked," said one IOC source emphatically, as he surveyed crowds of newsmen from around the world at a briefing with Monique Berlious, IOC director.
"The games haven't been canceled, or moved to another site, as President Carter wanted. I think we'll get 82 countries taking part here. We're all right."
He claimed that only 29 national Olympic committees were boycotting the games for political reasons. (The US claims almost twice as many.) He said most of the others staying away lacked money or athletes to come. (Most non- IOC and non-Soviet sources estimate a minimum of 40 national Olympic committees boycotting for political reasons.)
He and other IOC supporters also made these points:
The Olympic movement is still strong, despite the controversy generated by the boycott. Still more sports could be added to the 21 being staged in Moscow -- for instance, table tennis at the summer games in 1988, and even perhaps synchronized swimming, wind surfing, and women's judo.
Calgary, Canada, and cities in Italy and Sweden are vying to hold the 1988 Winter Games. Nagoya, Japan, and perhaps Melbourne, Australia, want to hold the next summer games -- though, as Lord Killanin, outgoing president of the IOC, said July 14, a permanent site in Greece is still being studied.
IOC officials believe the Carter administration violated protocol and hurt its own cause by sending former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to the opening of the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York, this year to urge that the Moscow games be canceled or moved.
Before his speech, IOC sources say, there was some sympathy for the US position. Emotions were high because Soviet troops had just gone into Afghanistan. But after the speech, the IOC dug in its heels and determined to go ahead.
The sources point out that the US, Australia, and other countries failed to find an alternative site for the games or to organize a "television games" held in various cities and linked by TV. They cite examples of Britain and Australia , whose government strongly opposed the games but whose national Olympic committees defied them and decided to come.
The US view, as expressed repeatedly in Washington and summarized by US Embassy repeatedly in Washington and summarized by US Embassy officials here, goes like this:
The boycott was announced by President Carter Jan. 4 after Soviet troops moved into Afghanistan in force, toppled the government, and installed a pro-Moscow ruler. But the boycott, the US says, was never aimed at the Olympic movement (as the Soviets constantly say it was). The US insists instead that it is not appropriate to hold the games, which should be staged in a spirit of peace, in the capital of a country that, even today, is killing the citizens of a remote, third world, Muslim, and formerly nonaligned country.
In all, the US believes, at least 60 national Olympic committees are not sending teams to Moscow, the vast majority because of the boycott. Only about 80 are taking part -- the smallest number since the Melbourne, Australia, games in 1956 (where only 67 nations competed because of long distances, the fact that it was winter in the northern hemisphere, and because strict quarantine rules forced the equestrian events to be held in Stockholm).
Boycott supporters say this mass abstention from the 1980 games makes the same basic point about Soviet troops in Afghanistan as the UN General Assembly vote on Jan. 14 (which condemned the move into Afghanistan by 104 votes to 18).
They say that while the IOC talks of "about 80" countries coming to Moscow, it does not talk about the number of individual sports federations that have pulled out of the games. These include British equestrian and yachting teams, Australian yachting and women's volleyball, and many others.
As a sporting event, supporters say, the games are spoiled because medals will not be as valuable as they would have been if American boxers, basketball players, sprinters, and other track-and-field stars, West German rowers and horsement, Japanese men gymnasts and volleyball players, Kenyan runners, and many others had competed.
On top of that, the Soviets hoped for 125,000 Western tourists all paying hard currency. At an aveage of $2,000 apiece for fares and hotels alone, that represented $250 million in revenue -- excluding ticket sales and souvenirs.
But estimates by individual embassies show that about 100,000 of those tourists (from the US, Canada, West Europe, Japan, and Australia) have canceled their tours -- a loss of about $200 million.