The Chinese were right after all. When the Asian Games began in Tehran three weeks ago, they frankly admitted that they did not have too much talent on their team. "We have come to learn," said Mao's men. Few onlookers believed them, so when the Games ended last Sunday the Chinese were in good position to say: we told you so. Oh, they won a mound of medals—106 to be exact, including 33 golds. But by Olympic standards the medallions they trunked home were no more meaningful than tourist trinkets, just so many bright baubles won by the likes of 10.6 100-meter sprinters whose times would not have qualified them to compete at Munich in 1972. At the last Olympics, if you hadn't run 10.3 or better, they didn't even let you in, except as the token entrant each country is allowed if it has no athlete who meets the qualifying standards.
In politics, a sport in which the People's Republic has the kind of world-class experience and world-wise technique that its athletes sorely lack, the Chinese mixed muscle with finesse and appeared to have made solid strides toward the big prize they seek—supplanting Taiwan as the representative of China in the 1976 Olympics. During the opening week of the Asian Games, Chinese officials held several long discussions with Lord Killanin, the new boss of the International Olympic Committee. He came away saying that he was sympathetic to the Chinese cause, just as long as they did not try any political pressure tactics. After years of Avery Brundage, the sympathy of His Lordship must have been as welcome to the Chinese as a warm spring after a long dark winter.
Ho Chen-liang is a high-ranking member of the Standing Committee of the All-China Sports Federation. One afternoon last week in Tehran he served a piping hot green tea called Dragon's Well and sugared walnuts and spoke of China's dealings with Brundage, the former IOC president. "We know of this chap," he said. "It was he who was maneuvering the question of two Chinas in the IOC. He should bear the responsibility for confusion and disorder in the Chinese sports picture. His brain is obsolete. He was far behind developments. It is 20 years since we left international competition, and great changes have taken place during this period, especially in 1971 when the U.N. restored China to her rightful place and expelled the Chiang Kai-shek clique. Quite a few justice-minded international sports federations have done the same. More and more people have come to see this trend, but never Brundage. We were really dismayed at his ignorance."
In another of their political moves, the Chinese decided that they would not talk to the Israelis. Putting aside their slogan of friendship first, competition second, the Chinese led a boycott against Israel in all combative sports—fencing, soccer, basketball and tennis. Tennis? With the logic of the East, the Chinese decided that swimming or running against an Israeli in the next lane was not as warlike as volleying a tennis ball across a net.
"What is the difference between tennis and track?" Ho was asked.
"I'll answer that tomorrow," he said. Tomorrow never came, at least as far as that question was concerned.
China said the boycott against Israeli athletes was only a gesture of friendship toward Iraq, but by the beginning of the final week of the Games the Chinese were refusing to shake hands with the Israelis they met on the victory stand.
"Friendship!" snorted Josef Inbar, president of the Olympic Committee of Israel and an executive member of the Asian Games Federation. "When China says friendship it doesn't mean what we mean. They are seeking membership in the track, swimming, soccer and gymnastics federations. Since they also demand the expulsion of Taiwan, they will try to do this through the support of the Asian and Arab countries. By forming an Afro-Asian bloc they will be able to get what they want. They are against us only because they want the Arabs on their side. If there were a lot of Israeli nations and only one Arab state, they'd be boycotting the Arabs."
One group of Arab supporters the Chinese did not want to offend was the host Iranians, who had led the fight to have Taiwan expelled from the Asian Games. China has been assured that Iran will carry the same cause to the IOC.
Taiwan was out of the Asian Games and China was in after Iran called a meeting of the Executive Committee of the AGF in 1973 and asked for a vote on the issue. At that meeting Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan and Japan each had one vote and Iran, as the host country for the next Games, had three. Because of political instability at home, the representative from Indonesia was absent and his vote was counted as an automatic No against the expulsion of Taiwan. Israel. Malaysia and Thailand also voted No. Pakistan and Japan voted Yes. That made it 4-2 for Taiwan. Then Iran voted three No's and made the total 5-4 for China. It was that simple.