THE Soviet Union's decision to boycott the summer Olympics in Los Angeles is regrettable. It is further evidence of the chill in US-Soviet relations. It is another step in the politicization of what ought to be a sporting event. And it is a disservice to the athletes involved - those not attending and those who will miss the Soviets' competition.
The boycott seems a clear evening of the score with the Carter administration for its boycott of the l980 Olympics in Moscow, an action taken as a protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It is an attempt to rebuff the Reagan administration for its often-harsh rhetoric of the last three years. It seems designed to influence American views of their political leaders as the American election campaign gets under way.
Even the timing of the action appears an effort to extract maximum effect, coming as it did when the Olympics flame was just beginning its transcontinental journey toward Los Angeles. As an unhappy counterpoint, it comes also as the Soviets again are escalating their four-year aggression against Afghanistan.
The Soviet argument for withdrawal - that the US is flouting Olympic ideals - likely masks a concern that some members of its delegation might defect under the encouragement of anti-Soviet organizations in the US.
Ironically, the Soviet pullout comes in a year when some other nations have been seeking to put aside bitter differences in favor of Olympic harmony. Both Communist China and Nationalist China are competing in the games for the first time. The two Koreas have held talks aimed to combine their Olympic teams.
The boycott follows the Soviet walkouts last year from two significant arms reduction talks, producing a stalemate. High on the agenda of the next US president, whoever is elected, should be a determined effort to improve relations between the two superpowers.
The Soviet action is yet another step in the politicization of the Olympic Games, now far from their original concept of a contest among the world's best individual athletes. Today achieving and boasting about Olympic golds are a part of the foreign policy of many nations, particularly the Soviet Union, Cuba, and East Germany. The l980 American boycott increased that politicization, and this week's Soviet action heightens it still further.
This said, just as attending the games should not be allowed to influence national political judgments, neither should boycotting the games be accorded special political significance where a nation is convinced its policies are right. Not attending the games is a greater loss for the Soviets.