SI Vault
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
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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

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The Olympic flame will be carried from Athens to Ottawa by laser beam. It will take one-twentieth of a second. Overland from there, in a more conventional way, the torch will be brought to Montreal and, should there be an Olympics, the flame will be taken into the magnificent new stadium on this Saturday afternoon, July 17, 1976.

Unfortunately, as it becomes easier to transmit the Olympic flame, it becomes more difficult to carry its meaning. Such divisiveness, such selfishness, such rancor as marked the warmups for the 21st modern Olympiad last week began to make it seem almost academic whether or not the Games would be played—unless, of course, gold medals are given for self-righteousness, pettiness and grandstanding. Nor any longer is it sufficient just to smile and say, oh well, these little quibbles always pop up and are forgotten as soon as the athletes get to sweating—nations will be nations, heh, heh. These disputes are never truly healed, and they only leave deeper wounds in the Olympic spirit. Because of Munich, Montreal has become a suspicious stockade town; because of past political incursions, the Olympics have become a place where opportunists can make a total shambles out of what once stood for good fellowship and excellence. Canada has spent $100 million on security, only to find out that the terrorists are within.

At week's end there were two major confrontations. Canada announced that the Republic of China could not compete under that name because the Dominion only recognizes mainland China and, despairing, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee acquiesed. Tanzania declared that because a rugby team from New Zealand had competed in South Africa, it would not enter its team—including the world-record holder in the 1,500, Filbert Bayi—unless New Zealand quit the Games.

Other African nations indicated they might follow the Tanzanian example—as great a symbolic amputation to the Games as a whole as Bayi's absence to his glamour event. Moreover, his government has also prohibited Bayi from entering a series of post-Olympic races against his prime rival, John Walker of New Zealand, and other top milers who are scheduled for Philadelphia, Helsinki and Edinburgh. We were all looking forward to the Dream Mile, and now that is exactly what we have, a mile to dream about.

But the shocking IOC decision concerning Taiwan cuts deeper, to the very heart of the Olympic movement. It would be erroneous to think back on it as some passing squall, something vaguely contrived, like boxers going through publicity motions to build up a fight gate. It speaks directly to Olympic sovereignty—and all the louder because the next Games will be held in Moscow.

Technically, when Games are awarded by the IOC, they are only granted to the petitioning city, but the country is obliged to offer its support. Essentially, the IOC becomes an independent jurisdiction, a government in residence with control over its temporary constituency. The Canadian government, run by the Liberals, then as now, tacitly accepted this well-recognized understanding with letters to the IOC when the Games were awarded in 1970.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau wrote, "I...extend to all who are associated with the Olympic Games a cordial invitation to visit us in Montreal in 1976." His Secretary of State for External Affairs, Mitchell Sharp, wrote even more explicitly, "I would like to assure you that all parties representing the National Olympic Committees and International Sports Federations recognized by the IOC will be free to enter Canada pursuant to the normal regulations." Now, presumably, the last five words of legalistic curlicue are the loophole by means of which Trudeau legitimizes his position.

Lord Killanin, the president of the IOC, first learned of Canada's intent to deny the Republic of China its name and flag on May 28, but the issue was not squarely faced until last Friday, July 9, when several ROC team members were refused admission to Canada. Then all-day negotiations began in earnest at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Compromise proved elusive because each side argued a different rationale. Canada cited, well, politics—as in sports and politics don't mix. The Canadians proclaimed the rather obvious existence of Red China and its 825 million souls. The IOC and the Republic of China remained just as intransigent, claiming that Red China, which is not, of its own accord, an Olympic member, is not a factor in the issue. All that counts is that the ROC is a member of the IOC in good standing, and that Canada had given its guarantee to accept every such party.

Virtually all outside support flowed to the IOC and Taiwan. For example, even the International Rowing Federation, which counts mainland China (and not island China) as a member, sided with the Olympians. The Canadian Olympic Association also argued against its own country and in the bargain even offered an analogy between Trudeau and Hitler. Canadians, who have suffered large amounts of bad publicity over their handling of the Games (could they even build that stadium on time?), have become particularly sensitive about how their government's arbitrary position will make them appear in the eyes of the world. When John Diefenbaker, the former Conservative prime minister, toured the Olympic site last week, he mournfully said that he feared Canada would become known "as a country which broke its word."

So recently a much-admired nation, sympathized with for having to lie in the awful shadow of the awful U.S., Canada's language shenanigans are now making it an international figure of fun. Just as it tries to gloss over its French-English disputes with a literal doublespeak—style instead of substance—so is the Taiwan matter so much semantic embroidery. Imagine all this fuss over a name. Besides, after so many years of moaning that it won't be dominated by the U.S., it is strange, to say the least, that Trudeau would put his country in a position where it appears to be nothing more than a running dog lackey for Peking.

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