It must seem to Chicago millionaire Brundage that most of his 80 years have been spent in the struggle to disinvolve the Olympic Games from politics, to keep amateurs and professionals distinguishable, to uphold the glory of sport over the self-service of nations. Often he has stood against the odds. Brundage was against a U.S. move to boycott the Berlin Olympics in 1936 (the threat of Olympic boycott is not new with Harry Edwards) even when it was obvious that Adolf Hitler intended to make Aryan hay out of the Games. Brundage prevailed; there was no boycott, and an American Negro named Jesse Owens, the son of an Alabama sharecropper, made chitlings of Hitler's theories right before his very eyes. Furthermore, Owens and the German long jumper, Lutz Long, struck up a close personal friendship—Long's advice helped Owens win one of his four gold medals—the implications of which give Brundage a warm feeling to this day.
"In an imperfect world," Brundage said, "if participation in sport is to be stopped every time laws of humanity are violated, there will never be any international contests." Close on the heels of politics, he blamed professionalism (the word is a terrible big bone in his tired old throat) for the ills of sport, and characterized sportswriters as the devil's advocates. Unfortunately, Brundage does not always win, and as often as not he is made to appear naive and foolish. Professionalism? A Russian can support his family on the money he does not make as an amateur. An American track star can travel around the world with the money he does not receive from hard-dealing international promoters, and when he wins his gold medal he can go off to play for the Chicago Bears with nary a hitch though there are Olympic by-laws that would forbid it.
Last April, in Lausanne, Brundage emerged from a meeting of the International Olympic Committee shaken and trembling with rage. South Africa, which had been banned from the Games in 1963 but voted back in last February, was being kicked out again at the behest of 40 or so other nations (and a quaking Mexican delegation) who, in their continuing effort to crystallize world opinion against South African apartheid, threatened to boycott. The Russian representative tried to get South Africa out of the IOC altogether for "violating Olympic ideals." Who will we hurt? Brundage argued. Certainly not South Africa's political determination to work out its own salvation, he said. There are other countries, he added, which are not exactly models of Olympic rectitude.
So whom did they hurt? In a name or two, a world class sprinter (Paul Nash), a record-breaking swimmer (Karen Muir) and a black half-miler (Humphrey Khosi), whose offense against the world was having been born in a country that sees life with tunnel vision. "We were full of enthusiasm," said Khosi. "Now a lot of people will lose heart."
The irony is impossible to escape. In 1956 Russian tanks plunged into Hungary and put a death grip on that country's try for independence. The Russians competed in Melbourne that year anyway—only the Dutch refused to join them—and if blood colored the water in the Russian-Hungarian water-polo match, who was to complain? Last August the Russians consummated another exercise in their special brand of idealism. Their tanks took up parking space in downtown Prague. The call for an Olympic boycott against the Russians was feeble, and one can imagine the grim laughter in Johannesburg over the apparent double standards of the International Olympic Committee.
There were other matters to unsettle the Mexicans, of course, closest to home being the proposed boycott by a group of American Negroes led by an assistant professor at San Jose State, Harry Edwards. Edwards used to throw the discus. He never made an Olympic team, but he made enough heat around this one and issued enough hairy ultimatums ( Avery Brundage must go; Muhammad Ali must be restored as heavyweight champion) to cause genuine concern for his more realistic objectives. These ultimately were fully aired, and when they did not draw wide support, the boycott was abandoned. It is still possible, however, that those with a carry-over sentiment will try something embarrassing once they get to Mexico City. The Mexicans can only watch and pray.
The moral lost in all this is that the Olympics, the instrument of international uplift, sometimes go far to debase the brotherhood of man. A second special project of late has been the effort to disprove the womanhood of some women. These, as well as efforts to curtail drug taking, will be closely pursued in Mexico City, where certificates will be granted to those who pass certain tests. The certificate will entitle the bearer to call herself a girl. It is not enough anymore for a woman athlete to pass a visual checkup. She must pass the buccal smear and the karyotype (chromosome patterns) examination. If she fails, as did Olympic bronze-medal winner Ewa Klobukowska of Poland, for her next medal she will have to outrun Charlie Greene.
Ewa was tested in Kiev by six gynecologists. She turned up with one too many chromosomes and now she is in hiding in Poland, reported to be in great despair and near suicide. Her disgrace started a wave of not-so-casual excuses by women competitors dropping out of international events, most notable being the Press sisters of Russia, Irina and Tamara. They said their mother was ill, has been ever since, and apparently will be for some time.
The cruelty in this is plain. Ewa Klobukowska passed the physical characteristics test, and doctors say she may even be capable of normal sexual activity. She was, said one Hungarian doctor, "the victim of medical escalation." (How many medal winners before her would have failed the same test?) The doctor called her a "genetic mosaic." He did not call her a man. An article in the journal of the American Medical Association, meanwhile, discounts the reliability of the buccal and karyotype tests. They are not foolproof, it says. "No single index or criterion can signify an individual's sex." Where does that leave Ewa Klobukowska? Somewhere in Poland, hiding her shame.
What, then, do the Olympics prove if they cannot prove anything as elementary as the sex of their contestants? They do not, in actual fact, prove anything beyond the obvious: that one man can run 100 meters faster than another. They do not prove the righteousness of causes, the supremacy of race or the ascendancy of the socialist order over the democratic. They do prove that the United States and Russia can summon up more cash (the U.S. budget to prepare and transport its team is $2 million, compared, say, with the Philippines' $63,000) to send more athletes to accumulate more medals than anybody else. Which is what they will do in Mexico City—the Americans will be better than ever in track and field and swimming, the Russians will have a medal harvest in the so-called minor sports. About the only extraordinary thing you can expect is the first Olympic defeat ever for an American basketball team.