Ledsky pulls no punches in saying that the Administration's course is a punitive one. "We want to make the Soviets pay the price, show them there are costs involved," he says. "There is something repellent about Soviet troops being in Afghanistan at the same time flights of doves are being let loose in Moscow."
Sandra Gust, a foreign-service officer on the State Department's Soviet Desk, points up the Soviet's vulnerability to intimidation through sports. " Russia is a very sports-conscious country," she says. "The Russians seek a kind of respectability in international competition. Their triumphs are widely publicized. They like to think of themselves as being in a sort of friendly competition with the Americans. Soviet society would certainly ask where the Americans were. They couldn't fail to notice that something was wrong. It [a boycott] is a way of bringing home to the Soviet people that what their government does affects every aspect of their relations with us, including sports. In many ways, it is the strongest action we can take in getting our message through."
Yet, some old Kremlin hands see the public response to the President's Olympic policy as senseless jingoism. The Soviets, said one veteran diplomat, will turn the boycott against us. "They will portray it as a blow against people-to-people contact. They will do their best to show that this is just another example of the odd workings of the West. A boycott would hurt them, but they would find redeeming aspects."
The absence of a U.S. team in the Olympics would, in current Washington parlance, "cost" the Soviets, but it would also cost a number of Americans a pretty ruble. The National Broadcasting Company, which invested $87 million for the privilege of televising the Games, can recoup most of its initial investment through insurance, but the cost in lost advertising revenue could be heavy. And then there is Stanford Blum, a Los Angeles businessman. His company, Image Factory Sports Incorporated, holds the U.S. rights to market products bearing the various symbols of the Moscow Olympics, including the mascot Misha. Says a glum Blum, "As of now, Misha the bear is dead. Nobody wants to have the stigma of Russia attached to them."
But the biggest losers of all will be the athletes, many of whom have been training for years, at considerable financial sacrifice, for the chance at an Olympic medal. Yet, few Americans share the philosophy of a French Olympian in judo, Jean-Luc Roug�, who in speaking of his fellow Olympians has said, " France is not a country to us, it is a team. Moscow isn't a city, it's a stadium. The Marseillaise is really just a song—we could compete under any tune. The important thing for us is just to play."
Around the world, athletes generally decried the possibility of a boycott. "I think governments and politicians should keep their noses out of the Olympics," said John Walker of New Zealand, the gold medalist in the 1,500 in Montreal. "In 1976, when South Africans were not permitted to compete, the only real victims were athletes in general—not South Africa." Swedish fencer Rolf Edling, also a Montreal gold medalist, said, "Sport should be the last contact to be broken between countries, not the first."
Moreover, it was clear that the Americans would be missed. In Italy, Pietro Mennea, the world-record holder in the 200-meter dash, bemoaned the possible pullout by the U.S. "I have been looking forward to the Moscow Olympics for years," he said, "ever since I failed to win a medal in Montreal. The Games should be the highlight of my career. I want to win a gold in the 200 and then retire. But I want to win a real gold. An Olympic final without the Americans would be worth nothing."
But there were athletes who viewed some sort of action as necessary. "I go along with the boycott," said New Zealand's Dick Quax, a veteran of two previous Olympics and a candidate for both the 10,000 and the marathon in Moscow. "It seems crazy to me that New Zealand's sending a rugby team to South Africa caused an African boycott of the Montreal Olympics and that Russia's sending an army into Afghanistan doesn't seem to disturb some people."
It certainly disturbs Carter, whose Olympic policy is only part of a larger strategy including the grain embargo, tightening the exportation of high-technology equipment and major increases in military expenditures. "We have asked farmers to make sacrifices—" Cutler says. "At first we all tend to think of our own interests. Eventually, we come to think of the overall interest."
The USOC executive board met for about eight hours in Colorado Springs last Saturday. Then Kane, looking simultaneously weary, relieved and bemused, announced that the resolution supporting the President—to a point just short of boycott—had been "hammered out and passed with the full support of the executive board." He read the resolution and answered some questions. Then, with an odd smile, he said, "The question is whether the Olympic movement is to be made into a weapon to get the Big Bear, [but remember] the weapon is made of flesh and blood.