LAYING THE GROUNDWORK?
The specter of a Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics loomed larger last week. Apprehensions that the Soviets might skip the Summer Games were heightened in particular by a Tass dispatch in which Soviet sports officials demanded an emergency meeting of the International Olympic Committee's executive board to deal with a long list of complaints related to the L.A. Games. These included charges that crime and smog in Southern California were excessive, that prices in the area were too high, that the L.A. organizers had allowed the Games to become too commercialized, that U.S. Olympic officials were out of line in approving press credentials for Radio Free Europe, the U.S. government-funded station that broadcasts to Eastern Europe, and, not least, that the Reagan Administration was, in effect, harassing the Soviets and encouraging �migr� and other private groups in Southern California to do the same.
It's conceivable that the Soviets were raising a fuss merely in hopes of wringing concessions on some of these points. The suggestion was also heard that they were setting forth their complaints as ready-made excuses in the event their athletes fared less well than expected. Given the dismal relations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., however, a Soviet boycott did seem possible, although not necessarily over any of the issues Soviet officials had so far raised. U.S. diplomats in Moscow speculated that the Soviets could have been laying the groundwork for a pullout from L.A. in the event of a major international incident on the eve of the Games. "Say they concluded it wouldn't be safe to send their athletes to California," one U.S. official said. "They could use [last week's statement] as their justification. They have it in the bank."
None of this is to deny that some of the Soviet grievances may be heartfelt. For example, the Soviets are upset over the U.S.'s denial of a visa last month to their proposed Olympic attach�, Oleg Yermishkin. Although the action was ostensibly taken on grounds that Yermishkin had close links to the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency, there's reason to suspect that the Reagan Administration also relished the opportunity to bait the Russian bear. In any event, the U.S.S.R. hasn't named another attach� and is reportedly considering resubmitting Yermishkin's name. Moscow also professes to be concerned about the danger to its athletes posed by anti-Soviet protesters in L.A., although another worry—the possibility of worldwide media exposure for the demonstrators—may have been betrayed last week by one Soviet source, who fretted, "Of course, you know the TV cameras will be on those people."
Soviet officials said a final decision on whether to compete in L.A. may not be made until just before the June 2 deadline for Olympic entries. Meanwhile, the IOC has asked Soviet Olympic officials and the L.A. Olympic organizers to meet on April 24 at its headquarters in Lausanne to deal with the Soviet complaints. Although that falls short of the full-dress executive board session Moscow apparently had in mind, the IOC obviously hoped the meeting would defuse a situation that badly needed it.
Larry King, the late-night radio talk-show host, recently
interviewed former umpire Ron Luciano. The segment included this illuminating exchange:
King: "Are there such things, Ron, as natural umpires?"
Luciano: "Yeah, there really are, but nobody starts out that way."