Birth of a Nation
The Olympic flag completed its journey from Barcelona to Atlanta last week, officially opening the all-important construction-boondoggle and political-catfighting seasons in that city. Somebody shoot a flaming arrow, and let the Games begin!
Actually, flaming arrows figure to be wildly unfashionable in Atlanta, a city that not only burned to the ground once but also might become the first host to what would be yet another new Olympic nation—the American Indians.
In the months before the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Games, the world seemed to constantly reinvent itself. Athletes from Croatia, Lithuania and Ukraine, which a year earlier had been only a gleam in various nationalists' eyes, marched shoulder to shoulder in Barcelona with Slovenes, Latvians and Bosnia-Herzegovinians.
This fall a group called UNION (Unite Now Indian Olympic Nation) will attempt to keep that pattern of change going by applying to the International Olympic Committee to have Native Americans admitted to the Atlanta games as a separate team. As UNION founder Matt Spencer points out, teams from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam, which are U.S. territories, competed in Barcelona. If they can have their own teams, why can't American Indians?
The National Congress of American Indians endorsed the plan at its convention in June, and hundreds of Native Americans have joined UNION, among them Teresa Thorpe, granddaughter of Jim Thorpe of the Sac and Fox-Potawatomi tribes, who won the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics.
"Little Indian kids have the same Olympic dream as white kids," says Steve Lopez, a Native American journalist and the West Coast director of UNION, "but because of the high suicide rate, poverty and alcoholism, they haven't had the chance to open the door to that realm. We're trying to open it for them."
Fran�ois Carrard, the director general of the IOC, says the chances of an American Indian team's being recognized are remote. "The practice is to recognize sovereign states," Carrard says. But there is nothing in the Olympic charter to prevent a Native American delegation from being included. UNION plans to approach U.S. corporations and sports franchises that have used Indian names—the Atlanta Braves leap to mind—to help fund an Indian Olympic training center.
When Philippine president Fidel Ramos welcomed the champions of the Little League World Series home to Malacanang Palace three weeks ago, he told the team from the provincial city of Zamboanga, "Because of your athletic determination, you have placed the Philippine flag higher than everybody else's." But when the coach of the team, Eduardo Toribio, admitted last week that eight of the 14 players on the winning team were ringers brought in from cities as distant as 700 miles from Zamboanga, officials at Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa., stripped the Philippine team of its title and awarded it to the team from Long Beach, Calif., which had lost 15-4 to Zamboanga in the title game.