The Great Paradox
Sixty Young American athletes returned to the U.S. last week after performances in Communist and non-Communist countries that made them the best good-will ambassadors the country has ever had.
Simultaneously, in Moscow, the heady world of Soviet sport heroes was shaken by a new outbreak of the dread occupational disease that has come to be known in the Communist press as "stardom sickness." Two of the best Russian women athletes were summarily dismissed from the track and field team. Beaten by a newcomer at a meet in Tallinn, Galina Zybrina and Tamara Tyshkevich, the two star shotputters, refused to accept second-and third-place medals, and stalked off the field. Miss Zybrina was subsequently expelled for "egotism and uncomradely behavior." At the same time, Nina Ponomaryeva (who created a minor international crisis two years ago when she was arrested for stealing five hats in London) was officially disgraced for undisclosed reasons, reportedly for superior airs and tantrums.
These might be dismissed as feminine trivialities, but they follow the imprisonment of an outstanding Soviet soccer star (12 years for rape) after disclosures that he was petted, pampered and bonused by the Moscow Economic Council so long as he won, despite a semicriminal career. Stardom sickness is defined as "arrogance induced by hero worship." Sport in Russia is an instrument of international propaganda and, at home, a means of diverting Russian citizens compelled to do without what the West regards as essentials. Victory under such a setup is obligatory. Defeat means loss of face, loss of prestige, loss of the whole reason for subsidizing sport.
The paradox is that the unsubsidized American team, winning and losing, really achieved for the U.S. what the 38-billion-ruble sports program was supposed to do for Russia. There were no incidents involving the American team, no displays of temperament, nothing remotely resembling the clash of race against race or class against class. There was, unfortunately, little backing, either. Expenses (about $30,000) were met by the AAU, which hopes to get its money back when the Russian team comes to the U.S. next year. In the four meets in Russia, Poland, Hungary and Greece, the American team won 85 of 121 events, broke two world records and appeared before 485,000 spectators, friendly to begin with and wildly enthusiastic at the end. If the renomination of Orval Faubus in Arkansas looked like an endorsement of racial demagoguery to Europeans, it was more than answered by the Negroes (notably Rafer Johnson) who made up half of the American team. The achievement of the American team in terms of sport was pretty impressive; as carriers of the best traditions of American democracy, they were magnificent.
The obvious lesson might appear to be to let well enough alone, avoid all manner of state support or interference and hope for the best again next year. But the truth is that support is needed from somewhere—support for orphan events, now neglected in the U.S., which Europeans value; support for regular meets with European teams; support for a continuing tradition of American competition in international events. Coach Ed Temple, who held together the American women's team (with no state subsidy, few scholarships, inadequate training facilities and no salary), has come to the conclusion that federal support may be necessary. Daniel Ferris of the AAU believes that private funds may be adequate. In view of the record of the Americans abroad, and the revelations of stardom sickness in Moscow, the distinction seems a little unrealistic. It isn't where support comes from, but what it goes to support. The Soviets are plainly subsidizing a sport caste, dedicated to victory for the sake of propaganda. The triumph of the American team in Europe suggests that when the aim is sport, win or lose, propaganda seems to take care of itself.
Ticklish but Tactful
The captain of an amateur sports team who is unable to play every member on the squad usually faces a ticklish moment when it comes time to introduce the players at presentation ceremonies after the competition. The other day at West Newton, Mass., Daisy Ferguson, captain of the British Isles women's amateur golf team which tied the U.S. and so retained the Curtis Cup, showed how it can be done graciously.
One by one, Miss Ferguson introduced the six girls who had competed in the two days of play. She described the contribution of each briefly but eloquently. Then she came to the seventh member of the squad who had bravely weathered the disappointment of not getting into the lineup either day. Miss Ferguson hesitated not at all.
"And this is our reserve," she said, "Miss Dorothea Somerville, our Scottish champion. Dorothea did everything she was called on to do. She carried messages all over the course, handed out sweets to our girls—and was ready to step in and play at a moment's notice."