Was that really Jane Fonda in Russia last week, struggling up the grand staircase of her hotel with a heavy suitcase in each hand? The sight of the czarina of aerobic fitness huffing and puffing isn't a bad metaphor for the current state of the Goodwill Games, which Fonda's husband, broadcast entrepreneur Ted Turner, created nearly a decade ago. As the third edition winds up this week in St. Petersburg, the Games aren't as idealistically spry as they once were. They have an '80s label they'll never fully shed. And you can hear the sound of their labored breathing.
Turner founded the Games at the height of U.S.-Soviet tensions. He's still willing to lose millions every four years to create programming for his cable empire, and he vows that the 1998 Games will take place in New York City as planned. Yet many people in both the U.S. and Russia wonder whether there's still a place for a Goodwill Games in a world so fundamentally changed. And judging from the first week's sluggish performances, some athletes must be wondering too.
Turner reiterated his commitment to alternating sites between the two countries. "Russia and the U.S. still have the two largest nuclear arsenals," he says. "If you're going to maintain a relationship, you have to keep working at it. Everybody in a marriage knows that." Indeed, next week Turner and Russian Olympic Committee president Vitali Smirnov will be scouting out the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk as a possible host in 2002.
But does Turner really want to take the Games to one of the most remote places on earth? After '98 he should consider awarding them instead to one of the many bitterly disappointed Olympic bridesmaids—to Berlin or Beijing, for instance, where antiforeigner sentiment could use a dose of Ted 'n' Jane idealism; or to South Africa, which should be ready to host such an event eight years from now. The Games could still be staged jointly with the Russian Olympic Committee. Turner would become equal parts Red Adair and Philip Habib, a swashbuckler-envoy who blows into some hot spot every quadrennial to put out the embers of conflict with his games of goodwill.
Not at Our Table!
Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn is evidently an aficionado of that emerging discipline gastrointestinal psychology. Commenting as an outsider on the negotiations between baseball owners and labor leaders, he said, "We're not really seeing into the bowels of the minds of the parties across the table."
If you think an inordinate number of U.S. sports figures have fallen from grace lately, just look at what has happened in the rest of the world. In Japan, where rudeness is the ultimate taboo, two of the country's most adored athletes have been denounced for deliberate disrespect. The chunkier hunk—by about 130 pounds—is 21-year-old sumo wrestler Takanohana, who two years ago became the youngest sumotori ever to win a tournament. He is so popular that his baby face is imprinted on T-shirts, coffee mugs and phone cards.