Critics like Gitter will no doubt be at least partly appeased by the selective way in which the new professionalism is evolving. This is because it does not mean that a truly "open" Olympics lies in the immediate future. Not every professional in every sport is going to be eligible to participate.
•Take boxing: Will Larry Holmes appear? Mike Tyson? Certainly not—because the rules of the AIBA, boxing's international governing body, are specific: No fighter who has boxed in more than six rounds in a fight is eligible for federation events. That might change, of course, but Colonel Don Hull of the U.S., president of the AIBA, says: "As for other sports, the Olympic Games are being made available to the best athletes in the world. But amateur boxing is so different from professional that it probably won't work for us. Pros fight to see who can take the most punishment. Amateurs are playing a game, a sport, and they want to avoid punishment. There is no way, even if we said to Holmes, we want you to participate, he would go through the qualifying requirements. A pro gets a million dollars to do this. He doesn't do it for nothing."
•Take basketball: Larry Bird? Kareem? Probably not in 1988, but perhaps there will be a yes to NBA stars for '92. Borislav Stankovic of Yugoslavia, secretary general of FIBA, the basketball federation, says, "Our executive board suggested to our full congress in July that all basketball players—NBA, CBA, all of them—should be allowed into our world championship and the Olympics. It went to a vote: 31 opposed, 27 in favor, 14 abstentions. So it is shelved until after 1988, but we will introduce it again, and by 1992 the new rule will exist, I think. All pros will be welcome."
Surprisingly, some of the top American officials are among those least enthusiastic about the prospect of NBA players participating in the Olympics. Robert Helmick, an IOC member and president of the USOC, says, "Open Olympics would be something very different. The requirements are based on fairness and eligibility. Some people feel it's an unfair advantage if you are an NBA player with a seven-figure income. Basketball would be so monopolized by these people that there would not be an opportunity for collegiate-age players to make the Olympic team.... I would be very sorry to see a system like that established." Bill Wall, executive director of the U.S. Amateur Basketball Association, sees the unequal competition of NBA stars versus other national teams as an overwhelming negative: "An NBA team representing the U.S. might have mildly interesting games against Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union, but everybody else would be beaten by anywhere from 50 to 90 points. The rest of the world might want to see NBA players in the Olympics just as a curiosity, even if they destroy every other team. But I don't think that would be in the best interest of the game because you lose spectator interest—and certainly TV coverage—with so many one-sided contests."
•Take tennis: It will be a full Olympic sport in Seoul for the first time. When it was an exhibition sport in '84, only tennis pros under the age of 21 were permitted to compete. Now the International Tennis Federation is wildly in favor of all pros competing. The IOC and some NOCs are a little skeptical, and the final decision for '88 will be made in May. The odds are good that every Ivan, Boris, Martina and Chris in the world will be playing for Olympic gold. And if not in '88, then in '92 for sure.
•Take soccer: In '84 the rules were changed to make all pro soccer players from North America, Australia and Asia eligible, as well as pros from Western Europe and Latin America who hadn't competed in the World Cup. This will change somewhat in '92, when all soccer pros 23 years old and younger will be eligible.
•Take track and field: The IAAF, the sport's governing body, has approved federation-laundered income for five years, and no one blinks at direct payments, though they are, strictly speaking, illegal. The IAAF doesn't recognize the term "professional," but it might as well, considering the number of athletes who are defined as amateurs who make their livings from the sport. Athletes who have taken money openly by competing professionally in another sport can apply for reinstatement on an individual basis. The IAAF recently approved Renaldo Nehemiah's return to eligibility for the Olympics as well as for federation events despite the four seasons that he played pro football for the San Francisco 49ers. Next month in Rome the IAAF Council will vote on whether to restore the track eligibility—reinstatement for Olympic purposes would follow—of three current NFL players: Herschel Walker, Willie Gault and Michael Carter. John Holt, the IAAF general secretary, doesn't have a vote on such matters, but he says unequivocally, "I'm in favor of letting them compete. I think it's completely arrogant to say that an athlete like Edwin Moses can compete and then to say that a pro footballer can't compete in amateur athletics. There's no way football can be helping these athletes in track and field. If anything, football hinders them."
•Take baseball: When it becomes a full Olympic sport in '92, it may include some pros. Dr. Robert E. Smith, president of the International Baseball Association, says: "We still say, 'Once a pro, always a pro,' and we have no way of reinstatement yet. After 1988, we could come up with a change that allows in young men who played pro briefly and are now out of the game." He went on to say, "The Summer Olympics come at a time when pro baseball is in session. We don't think there is any way major league baseball would release their players." Of course, there's always the possibility that, with the split Games, Olympic baseball could be played in the Southern Hemisphere during baseball's off-season, but it doesn't seem likely that the association will move toward making baseball open any time soon.
•Take ice hockey: This was the sport that caused all the controversy in '84 over what the definition of a pro was, with the U.S. and Canadian teams using different criteria. Since then the world hockey federation, the IIHF, has put out the welcome mat for all pros, making hockey the most open of all Olympic sports, but IIHF president Günther Sabetzki of West Germany is not expecting the NHL to empty its roster into the Olympic Games. "The NHL won't free its players for the three, four weeks it takes to get ready for and play in the Olympics," says Sabetzki. "Certainly not in the middle of the season. It's a nice move by the IOC, trying to equalize things, but in hockey I don't think it will change much in reality." That is, again, unless the Winter Games are ever held in the Southern Hemisphere in hockey's off-season.
So, some federations go all pro, others come up with mutants. But whatever the various federations decide to do, the Olympic die is cast. The great dive into something like reality has begun, and the Games will never be the same.