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Any day now the U.S. Senate will take up the subject of amateur athletics and this country's participation in international competition, particularly the Olympics. Sometime later the House will respond with a bill of its own.
Without going into past AAU- NCAA-USOC hassles that unhappily have occupied this country's athletic bodies for over a decade, it is enough to know that the Senate will be considering two bills that will put the government foursquare in amateur sports. One, which the Senate is expected to approve quickly, would establish a commission to review U.S. participation in the Olympic Games and perhaps recommend a new organization to direct it. The other bill, setting up its own Olympic study board, would go much further by creating a five-member Amateur Sports Board that would charter national athletic governing bodies such as the AAU, adjudicate disputes between them and provide recourse to the U.S. courts. The board would also approve organizations to represent the U.S. abroad, designate teams and individuals for international events and conduct domestic competition. Finally, the bill would establish a 16-member Sports Foundation to develop and improve sports facilities. To that end the U.S. would match, to a limit of $50 million, funds raised privately. In both bills the principal members of the boards would be designated by the President.
The House bill, if you can hang with this for one more dose, was introduced by two-time Olympic champion Bob Mathias. It would amend the federal Olympic charter to provide for binding arbitration by the American Arbitration Association, an independent organization, in jurisdictional disputes and in securing a bill of rights for individual athletes.
Since 1964, when the then-Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, advocated in these pages a sports-development foundation that would require some federal involvement, we have stated our opposition to the intrusion by government into sport. We see no objection, however, to a study of our sometimes imperfect administrative performance in the Olympics. The United States Olympic Committee says it would welcome that, if for no other reason than to clear its name.
Leading athletes favor the foundation idea with its promise of $100 million for facilities, but in a country of this size $100 million would prove little more than a chimera, and the government would have a foothold. It would have almost a stranglehold on amateur sport if the Amateur Sports Board were enacted into law and the President were given the right to select amateur sports leaders. A more broadly representative USOC that, from time to time, is subject to outside investigation is preferable, in our view, to total governmental control, as practiced by an increasing number of nations.
The brightest idea, and one we would like to see enacted, is Mathias' for compulsory arbitration through the nongovernmental AAA. It just could succeed at last in knocking some sense into AAU and NCAA heads.
After years of trying to reconcile the English golf ball and the U.S. version, the United States Golf Association has decided that the two are poles apart, which is not the case in Australia, where the problem is finding the poles apart. But this needs telling.
First, the USGA announced last month that it was withdrawing from the attempt to achieve a compromise ball with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. In England and most of the rest of the world they play a ball that measures 1.62 inches in diameter. The U.S. ball is 1.68 and the hope was that the only two rules-making bodies in golf—which have no other differences—could get together on 1.66. This is not to be, the USGA says, because of the expense involved in studying and learning to control the distance characteristics of the new ball and retooling to produce it.