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Whatever the consequences of the U.S. action—and one might be to endanger the 1984 Games scheduled for Los Angeles—both White House and State Department staffers seemed determined last week to pursue a course that their interpretation of the public response tells them is the right one. On Thursday the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly—386 to 12—in favor of the President's Olympic policy, and the Senate is expected to take a similar action soon. Newspaper editorials and public-opinion polls have been running strongly in favor of what people insist on calling "the boycott."
The President is doing less well abroad, although British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher quickly joined his side. In a letter to Sir Dennis Follows, chairman of the British Olympic Association, she called for a transfer of the Games, writing, "We believe that, with cooperation between like-minded countries, it should be possible to hold the Games in one or, if necessary, more than one other place [besides Moscow].... In an ideal world, I would share entirely the philosophy of the Olympic Movement that sport should be divorced from politics. Sadly, however, this is no longer a realistic view. For the Soviet Union, the Olympic Games are a major political event which will be used to boost Soviet prestige in the world."
Cutler says he's much encouraged by support from abroad. He claims that the President has received favorable, or at least sympathetic, reactions from as many as 30 foreign governments, including many in the Moslem world. But national governments can only request action of their Olympic committees, albeit with some muscle. The committees themselves have the final responsibility for determining participation or withdrawal. For instance, while Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark pledged immediate support for Carter's policy, the Canadian Olympic Association hedged. It issued a release that said in part, "The Canadian Olympic Association does not agree that participation in Olympic Games in Moscow represents an endorsement of the government of the Soviet Union or any of its activities."
Most of the national Olympic committees, like the USOC, were buying time. The French were an exception, accepting the Soviet invitation the day after it was received, despite the impassioned plea of a Soviet dissident, Vasily Kuznetsov, who lives in France. "Claiming that sports and politics can be divided is missing the point," he thundered. "In our world everything is politics, and the Olympics are grand politics."
Much of Western Europe was quite obviously squirming under the ever-increasing pressure to declare support or nonsupport. In Holland, chess grand master Viktor Korchnoi, who defected from the U.S.S.R. in 1976, urged a boycott, saying, "We do not talk about affecting the Soviet Union. We talk about compromising the politics of the Soviet government in the eyes of the Soviet people."
West Germany, like many of its neighbors, waffled. But as the politicians hemmed and hawed, requests for tickets to the Games soared. Apparently, sports buffs were reapplying in hopes of getting returns from those canceling out.
Some European nations suggested alternatives to President Carter's intransigent position. Luxembourg Prime Minister Gaston Thorn proposed as "the only realistic compromise solution" that the Western nations send "second-rate" athletes to Moscow. Emanuel Rose, the secretary general of Denmark's Olympic Committee, suggested that Danish athletes decide for themselves whether or not to compete but recommended that those going to Moscow not take part in the opening or closing ceremonies. The president of the Belgian Olympic Committee, Raoul Mollet, opposed President Carter's position saying, "Someone always has a reason for boycotting an event in which those who do not share his ideas are participating," but he added, "We will quite understand if for personal reasons a leader or an athlete refuses to go."
The governments of Australia and New Zealand quickly lined up behind the President. Asian countries were taking a wait-and-see approach, but they, too, seemed likely to follow the American lead. Another U.S. ally in this matter apparently will be the People's Republic of China, which, after a long fight to gain admittance to the Olympics, is now preparing for its first Games since 1952. Nevertheless, a spokesman for China's National Sports Commission has told newsmen that "the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan does not accord with the Olympic spirit." An American boycott or insistence on moving the Games to another site would probably place irresistible pressure on the undecided Japanese to follow suit.
Cutler is confident of a steady growth of anti-Soviet sentiment. No modern Olympic Games have been wholly free of politics since 1936, when Hitler used them as a showcase for Nazism, just as, Cutler says, the Russians will use the 1980 Games to advertise themselves. In Colorado Springs, Cutler told newsmen that becoming the Olympics' first Communist host "may be the most important single event in the Soviet Union since World War II.... We intend to deny them what was going to be an enormous propaganda victory."
The Soviet Union was an aggressor in at least two other Olympic years—in 1956 against Hungary and in 1968 against Czechoslovakia—and yet no U.S. boycotts were proposed. "This is different," Cutler insists, because this time the U.S.S.R. is the host. "And, in principle, we ought not to be in the capital of the aggressor at the very moment the aggression is going on."