SAY IT AIN'T SO, ANNUNZIO
The Summer Olympics are at odds with the U.S. Government again. It's not a question of boycott this time but the stubborn stand of one U.S. Congressman. A plan to have the Treasury authorize commemorative coins for the 1984 Los Angeles Games is supported by President Reagan and Secretary of the Treasury Regan, and a bill to go ahead with the coins has been sponsored by, among others, Democratic Senator Alan Cranston of California and Republican Senator Jake Garn of Utah, along with more than 100 Congressmen. The bill passed the Senate handily, but when it got to the House of Representatives it was stopped dead in the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage by its chairman, a nine-term Democrat from Chicago named Frank Annunzio, who doesn't like the bill at all. He's sat on it, kept it from coming to the House floor and effectively stopped its passage. To Olympic people, including the two dozen athletes who dropped in on Washington last week to lobby for the bill, Frank Annunzio is looming as the Afghanistan of these Olympics.
Why? Well, to put it simply, the sale of commemorative coins has become vital to the finances of recent Olympics. The bill that passed the Senate called for a maximum of $425 million worth of silver and gold coins to be issued, in values of $1, $10, $50 and $100 and with 25 different designs. The bill stipulated that the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee's cut from the sale was to be at least $50 million, although estimates of how much the LAOOC would actually receive go as high as $200 million (it would divide its take with the U.S. Olympic Committee), because the coins are usually sold for a price far above face value. A professional consortium (the same one that handled the sale of coins for the Moscow Olympics, plus the Franklin Mint) had agreed to give the LAOOC $50 million as a guarantee against its share of sales as soon as it had the coins to sell. Now the consortium has been saying it would back out of the deal if approval for minting the coins isn't given by April 1. If that happens, insiders say the Los Angeles Games could be in serious trouble. Time is running out, and the LAOOC, the USOC, the International Olympic Committee and the athletes are all beginning to panic.
Why is Annunzio stonewalling? For one thing, his office questions the optimistic sales projections, and, in a letter to fellow Congressmen, he raised the specter of "scandals" in connection with past commemorative coin sales (he didn't specify what scandals). He also told the House that the American Numismatic Association, a collectors' group, objects to the number and variety of coins to be issued.
The LAOOC refutes this, declaring that the sale of Moscow coins was extremely successful, that even the financially disastrous Montreal Games had coin sales of $125 million and that coin sales were the second-largest source of income for the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. As for the numismatists' objections, critics of the A.N.A. call it an elitist group that disapproves of mass sales of commemorative coins.
In any case, Annunzio introduced his own bill in the House that reduced the number of coins from 29 to one. The LAOOC objected, but in time reluctantly agreed to 17 coins, warning that it wouldn't be economically feasible to issue fewer than that. Annunzio just as reluctantly came up to 10 coins but said that was as high as he could go. He said he wouldn't hold a hearing in his committee on the bill until the opposition agreed with his total. Annunzio had no further comment, but a subcommittee staffer says: "It's one of those matters that need some basic agreement before the legislative process can be started."
Well, no, it isn't. First, the legislative process is already under way—the Senate passed the bill—and is now being blocked. Then, too, Annunzio, his staffer admits, hasn't even polled his committee members to see how they feel. Considering the overwhelming support for the measure in the Senate, it can be assumed that opposition to Annunzio would be great, and that the bill's progress through the remainder of the legislative process would be assured.
Perhaps this is what worries Annunzio, and why he so stubbornly persists in his lonely stand. But hearings are part of the legislative process. One should be called as soon as possible, and the bill's fate properly and swiftly resolved.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
Who says modern athletes aren't hungry? A story out of Pembroke, N.C. told of a college baseball game that was actually called on account of hunger. The game between Pembroke State and North Carolina at Charlotte had started at 3 p.m., and at 6:25, with the score tied 8-8 at the end of nine innings, Pembroke Coach Harold Ellen pulled his team off the field, explaining to the disbelieving members of the visiting team that the school cafeteria was about to close. "We don't have the money like them big schools have," Ellen said, "and I can't afford to send them to McDonald's."