The unspeakable word in stormy, snowbound Colorado Springs last weekend was not "blizzard" but "boycott." The very mention of it before convening members of the U.S. Olympic Committee's executive board and their hard-sell petitioners from the White House elicited responses as chilly as the sub-freezing temperatures. But the unsavory word did pop up from time to time.
Lloyd Cutler, counsel to President Carter, heard it just after he completed two and a half hours of "brisk, give-and-take discussions" with the USOC board members Saturday morning at the Broadmoor Hotel. Cutler was shocked by such language. "The President's request," he explained huffily, "is that if Soviet troops remain in Afghanistan, the United States Olympic Committee propose to the International Olympic Committee that the Olympic Games be transferred from Moscow or canceled or postponed. Failing such effort, he requests that no U.S. team attend the Games this summer."
This final option appeared nowhere in the resolution the executive board adopted that evening by unanimous vote of the 68 attending members. It resolved that the USOC would indeed ask the IOC to move the Olympic Games out of the Soviet Union or cancel or postpone them, but if the IOC should reject that proposal, the board only said that "appropriate action" would be considered. In the meantime, the USOC "shall continue to select and prepare the United States Olympic team...."
Boycott? No way. USOC President Robert J. Kane said the board was merely "buying time" with its resolution. Unless prodded further by Carter, it has until May 24, eight weeks before the Games begin, to send word of its entry to Moscow, according to IOC rules. Not entering, Kane reminded questioners, is hardly the same as boycotting something or somebody, even though the effect is the same: you're not around.
The President's men seemed satisfied with the result. "The USOC has taken a very important step," said deputy presidential counsel Joseph Onek after the vote. "It is the first step in signaling to the Russians that their aggression in Afghanistan will not go unanswered. This is precisely what the President requested." According to Onek, there was no need to take the final step of boyco...er...withdrawing from the Games until later. The President does not expect either the IOC or the USOC to take action before February 20, the deadline he has set for the U.S.S.R. to clear its troops out of Afghanistan.
But, in fact, the USOC must soon meet the concept of boycott head-on, for there seems as little chance of the IOC accepting any part of the Colorado Springs resolution as there is of U.S.S.R. troops moving out of Afghanistan by the President's deadline. Lord Killanin, the Irish peer who is president of the IOC, insists, "There is no question of the Games being moved to another venue." They have been awarded to Moscow, he asserts, and it would be logistically impossible to take them anywhere else. "This does not mean," he quickly appends, "that I or the IOC are condoning the political action of the host country, but if we started to make political judgments, it would be the end of the Games."
President Carter's decision, in Killanin's view, was "hasty." As for postponement, Rule 54 of the IOC Charter requires the Games to be held during "the last year of the Olympiad which they are to celebrate"—1980 for the XXII Olympiad. "In no circumstances," states the Charter, "may they be postponed for another year." The options come down to a single word for the USOC.
White House and State Department officials reject Killanin's notion that moving the Games is a logistical impossibility. "It seems almost beyond belief that, given the entrepreneurship of the Western world, a major sports event cannot be organized in six months," says Nelson Ledsky, who heads the State Department's Olympic Task Force.
With its action last weekend, the USOC itself may be considered a malefactor in some Olympic circles, because in apparently knuckling under to its own government it could be charged with breaking the IOC's Rule 24c, which states, "National Olympic Committees must be autonomous and must resist all pressure of any kind whatsoever, whether of a political, religious or economic nature." The suggestion that this rule might be enforced against the USOC turns Cutler and Onek apoplectic.
"It's inconceivable that the Olympic Committee of the Soviet Union could be autonomous and free of political influence," said the ordinarily unflappable Cutler last Saturday. "Indeed, its members are high officials of the Soviet government." The vote supporting the President "does not mean the USOC is not autonomous," added Onek. "The President has also asked many Americans to conserve energy. Are they any less autonomous for complying?"