SI Vault
 
MORE DARK CLOUDS OVER MONTREAL
Frank Deford
July 19, 1976
Even as the athletes began to arrive, the trouble-plagued XXI Olympic Games were confronted with two additional crises, host country Canada barring the Taiwanese team and Tanzania refusing to show up if New Zealand did
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 19, 1976

More Dark Clouds Over Montreal

Even as the athletes began to arrive, the trouble-plagued XXI Olympic Games were confronted with two additional crises, host country Canada barring the Taiwanese team and Tanzania refusing to show up if New Zealand did

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

It was Tanzania that forced the issue, finally deciding to act alone, specifically protesting the presence in South Africa of the New Zealand All Blacks as "open approval by New Zealand of the murderous acts" of the recent Soweto riots in which 176 died. The statement concluded: "To exclude from the Games countries which fraternize with South Africa is the greatest contribution mankind can make in reaching a peaceful solution in South Africa."

It took another day before Nigeria, the largest and most powerful black African nation, suggested that other African countries would probably fall in line. (At week's end, only Mauritius had done so.) Certainly, there was no chance that New Zealand would pull out on its own. Bill Holley, the New Zealand chief of mission, pointed out that in his country athletic federations have no connection with the government, nor with one another. To put this in perspective, the All Blacks rugby team is simply an independent enterprise equivalent to, say, the World Championship of Tennis, which is incorporated and located in Dallas and which annually sends a number of its contracted players to compete in a WCT tournament in Johannesburg. Will Tanzania and other African nations now be consistent and boycott all U.S. teams because Arthur Ashe competes in South Africa?

Rather poignantly, the remarks of New Zealand's Holley and those of Filbert Bayi were of a kind. Said Holley, "I think Tanzania and the other African nations have failed to consider the athletes, like Bayi, who have trained so hard for years for these Games."

In Dar es Salaam, Bayi, obviously distressed, said, "Four years of training have gone for nothing." Then, circumspect, he added quickly, "But the government had to do what it did."

The other athletes were disappointed, to be sure, but they went about their training, secure in their youth that foolish old men would not keep them all from competing. Often as not, the talk was less of global issues and more of their creature comforts.

The Montreal Olympic Village, which is really the Olympic High Rise—19 stories of neo-Nebuchadnezzar—is conveniently located only a couple of blocks from the stadium complex, but it hardly provides the luxury accommodations of Munich. Toilets promise to be a constant topic of conversation, which toilets always are only when there are not enough of them. There are not enough. One apartment, jammed with a dozen American girls, has only one bathroom—one toilet, one washbasin, one shower/tub. There was general speculation that this crowding might benefit the athletes of the poorer countries, who are not so accustomed to such luxuries as private plumbing.

But the quarters are certainly not unagreeable. For the first time, they are air conditioned, each apartment has a color TV set, and each competitor his own locked trunk. Not surprisingly for such a gourmet city as the Paris of North America, the Olympians' food—especially the salmon—has been praised extravagantly. Let's keep politics out of food.

It would have been easy for the U.S. to bivouac its team just over the border in Plattsburg and run in the competitors like relief pitchers from the bullpen, but the American officials felt it unfair to deny our athletes the rare Olympic experience. Alas, the High Rise appears about as international as a spring weekend at Iowa State. The competitors are almost indistinguishable, dressing virtually exclusively in track suits, jeans and bathing suits.

All these handsome young people look and act so much alike that local Canadian ethnic groups, in the quaint native dress of their forefathers, must be brought to the Olympic High Rise to international the place up. The other day, when a Hungarian dance troupe was trucked in from the suburbs, Japanese photographers were tripping all over the real international athletes in their universal attire to take pictures of the Quebec ringers.

But overlaying the High Rise, the playing venues and downtown is the social smog known euphemistically as "supervision." Security. Or, let us be honest: the 21st modern Olympiad, Operation Alpha to the Mounties, is a little police state. There are many more soldiers and cops—16,000—than athletes, and while London sprang for less than $5,000 in security costs in 1908, the price tag here for keeping the athletes alive will exceed $100 million.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4