Olympics in perspective

IT'S far from the end of the world that the Soviets and their friends won't be coming to the Los Angeles Olympics. True, the games are a wonderful series of sports events. This year's Olympiad, with a dozen new competitions for women, should especially be one not to miss.

But the Olympics are not, in themselves, an indispensable institution. They are not a form of world government. They are not a league, with constituent members; they are a voluntary competition. This should be considered when looking for ways to insulate the games from political boycotts, such as marred the Moscow games in 1980, and as appear likely to detract from this summer's Olympiad.

Politics is not of itself bad. It reflects relationships.

It can be argued that the games are an incentive to political hatchet-burying , not just a victim of political rivalry or disapproval. If an East-bloc nation hosts the Olympics in the next decade or so, and the United States and Soviet athletes compete amicably, this outcome would be praised as a sign of improved East-West relations, and the current spate of boycotts would be held as the measure of how much better things had become. Why assume that East-West relations have permanently soured? If there had been a will to do so, this summer's games would have offered an opportunity for President Reagan to receive high-level Soviet officials, even Konstantin Chernenko himself, in his home state of California - to get together, to watch the athletes, without keying their meeting to hardball diplomacy. Leave it to the US arms buildup, the stationing of new missiles in Europe, and the Soviets' countermoves to do the talking about how seriously each side should be taken.

The main proposals for fixing the games include (1) picking one permanent site, such as Greece, (2) scattering the games at several sites, (3) and alternating among several neutral sites. Perhaps the better argument for one site is cost, and the petty politics of contriving to win the host city nomination, not international politics. And yet, would not the recent run of games - Rome, Mexico City, Melbourne - be poorer without the memory of those cities?

Hosting the games can represent a coming of age for a nation, or a region. Certainly South Korea, now an ambitious economic power, would rather run the risk of political confrontation over its 1988 Olympiad for the sake of demonstrating its maturity than to miss out on the Olympics spotlight forever. When will it be China's turn? An Arab nation's?

Not all political pressure is bad, either. Wouldn't the world welcome the day that South Africa's apartheid policies no longer ostracized its athletes! The Munich games, dominated by the tragic terrorist incident, nonetheless offered for West Germany a positive contrast with the racism-dominated Berlin Olympics.

If politics interferes, why hide the games? Why not heal the tensions?

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