Integrity of world sports

The world of international sports, sometimes Byzantine, long has been beset by serious challenges: politics, drugs, and professionalism in all but name. A fresh reminder that these problems remain to be solved has surfaced with the Soviet shooting down of KAL Flight 7. That brought such an outcry in the US that several American hosts canceled their competitions with Soviet athletic teams. The Soviets pulled out of other US events. Involved are basketball, hockey, and rowing contests.

Politics long has been a sports problem. International politics, including prejudicial judging by East-bloc officials, too often plays a part in determining the outcome of some events, such as skating and gymnastics. So does internal politics: contestants have little prospect of winning their first time around.

The drug issue surfaced again during last month's Pan American Games. Tests by sophisticated equipment indicated some medal winners had taken illegal drugs: their prizes were withdrawn. Other entrants left before their contests took place and avoided the tests. For years charges have been hurled that many top international athletes have taken drugs to gain an unfair advantage.

Rooting out drugs - both the illegal ones, and those legally prescribed but abused - is needed in many levels of US sports, from professional to high school.

Many nations, especially Communist countries, field international teams which factually are professional. Future contestants are selected when very young - as early as age two - for full-time training at government expense. It is as difficult as it is unfair for pure amateurs to compete against these professionals-in-everything-but-name. One way the US has approached this problem is by constructing a central Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Many US athletes are not pure amateurs, either, once they reach the top. US athletic events provide money to first-rank runners and other supposed amateurs, enabling them to devote themselves wholly to their sports and live a comfortable life-style.

But it is world politics that now is most troubling to international sports.

The harsh response of Americans to the KAL 7 downing throws into some question whether the Soviets will compete in next summer's Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

It is widely assumed the Soviets will decide to attend, although they need not say so until June.

Whereas the International Olympic Committee could bar them it probably will not.

And the US, like all host groups, was required to promise in advance that it would welcome officially the teams of any nation which elected to enter.

Nevertheless, with a precedent of unwelcome being set, US sports officials should affirm now the principle of free access of athletes to world competition.

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