SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
January 21, 1980
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January 21, 1980


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The Carter Administration last week appeared to be stiffening its resolve to use the 1980 Summer Olympics as a weapon in response to the Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan. The White House apparently was becoming ever more convinced that by spoiling the U.S.S.R.'s elaborate plans for the Moscow Games, it could deal a stunning blow to the Kremlin. Vice-President Mondale, for example, told of reading a column in The Washington Post claiming that a cancellation or major disruption of the Olympics would send shock waves through Soviet society, thereby challenging the legitimacy of Kremlin rule. Mondale said he was so impressed by the column that he phoned President Carter and urged him to read it.

Still very much alive was the possibility that the President would call for a boycott of the Games, a prospect he raised in a speech two weeks ago (SCORECARD, Jan. 14). As one Administration official said last week, "Obviously if Soviet tanks are still rolling through the streets of Kabul, there's not going to be an Olympic atmosphere. It will remind the world of Nazi Germany and the 1936 Olympics." Although opposed to a boycott at present, even U.S. Olympic Committee officials conceded that there conceivably could be circumstances—presumably, a break in diplomatic relations or worse—under which the U.S. could not participate. On Sunday the Carter Administration dispatched Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Europe to consult with U.S. allies about a possible boycott. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which has already announced a boycott of the Summer Games, intends to urge concerted action at a meeting of Islamic foreign ministers later this month.

Also coming in for growing discussion was the option of holding the Olympics someplace other than Moscow. Campaigning in Iowa, Mondale expressed his "personal belief" that the Games should be moved to another site, such as Munich or Montreal, where facilities are in place from the last two Olympics. Also in Iowa, Rosalynn Carter said flatly that the Games "ought to be moved." Although the President himself said nothing more on the subject publicly, it was becoming increasingly clear that he felt the Games should not be held in Moscow as long as Soviet forces remained in Afghanistan. Carter also was reported to be mulling over the possibility of urging that the Games be spread among several sites—say, the gymnastics in Japan, the boxing in Cuba, the track and field in the U.S.

It was apparent that the Administration had not yet fully thought out the implications of trying to move the Olympics. As Olympic officials were quick to point out, the Games can be shifted only by the International Olympic Committee, and the prospects of that happening are dim. Moreover, the Soviet Union would almost surely boycott a transplanted Games, as would its allies as well as nonaligned countries unwilling to risk Moscow's disfavor. The result would be an Olympics hardly worthy of the name. An Olympics scattered over many sites would be even more of a misnomer; they would amount to, at best, world championships, something already routinely held in most sports.

There would also be formidable logistical and political problems in finding another location even if the Games were delayed a month or two. Japanese authorities were so aghast at the enormity of staging the Games—which if all countries participate involve 13,000 athletes and thousands of support personnel—on such short notice that they would not even discuss the possibility of using facilities built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Mexico City, the scene of the '68 Games, is also out; the word is that the Mexicans would be no more willing to host an exiled Olympics than they were an exiled shah. In the case of Munich, its Olympic Village has long since been converted to middle-income housing, and the city's hotel space for next summer is booked solid. As with the Mexicans, West German officials indicate that a relocated Olympics would be too hot to handle politically.

That leaves Montreal. Last week, in the midst of an election campaign, Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark offered to "take a lead" in shifting the Games to another site and said he had consulted with Mayor Jean Drapeau about the possibility of holding them in Montreal. Although the National League would no doubt cooperate in moving the Expos out of Olympic Stadium, a remaining obstacle is that Montreal's Olympic Village, like Munich's, now has people living in it. Jim Worrall, one of Canada's two IOC members, says, "I don't think Montreal or any other, city is in a position to hold the Games on such short notice." Worrall and other Canadians remember only too vividly that Montreal had six years to prepare for the '76 Games and came within a hairsbreadth of not making it.

Moving the Games poses one further problem. The logic in threatening to boycott the Games is that such an action could still be carried out practically on the eve of the Olympics, which are now scheduled to begin July 19. Or, better still, it might not have to be carried out at all. By contrast, assuming that a site could somehow be found, the logistical problems of shifting the Olympics would require acting in the next few weeks. If a decision were reached before next month's Winter Olympics, the Soviets and their allies could certainly be expected to boycott Lake Placid. In any event, the U.S. would be playing its hand months earlier than it really had to. Whatever the Administration does, there is a chance that the '80 Games—and perhaps the Olympic movement—could be reduced to a shambles. Given the special meaning the Olympics hold for people the world over, it will be a shame if that happens. It will be even more of a shame if it happens unnecessarily.


At its 74th convention last week in New Orleans, the NCAA decided to conduct championships for women at the Division II and III levels in five sports: basketball, tennis, swimming, field hockey and volleyball. The action, which will take effect in the 1981-82 academic year, greatly distressed the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which was meeting concurrently in Washington. The AIAW, which has governed women's sports since its creation in 1971, said it was considering legal action against the NCAA. AIAW delegates accused the NCAA of plotting a takeover of women's athletics, a fear that was hardly dispelled by NCAA Secretary-Treasurer James Frank, who said, "I don't think there's any question it would be favorable for an individual institution to have a single organization governing men's and women's athletics to deal with."

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