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Recently the newspaper Trud told the story of George Usatov, the manager of a coal-mining trust, an avid soccer fan, who decided to organize a soccer club of his own. He thereupon sent out letters, telegrams and even scouts to recruit players. "I'll pay $150 to $200 and even more," he promised. Applicants flocked in from all over Russia, and he soon had a first-rate team. The players were put on the trust's payroll as miners and were given premiums for underground work though "they never went near a shaft." In fact, the newspaper said, they only went to the mine twice a month to collect their salaries.
But like all such tales which reach public print in Russia this one ends sadly. When Usatov's superiors in Moscow discovered that he had spent half a million rubles (about $50,000) on his club, he was demoted and reprimanded. The team was kept on, but at reduced salaries.
Not every tennis player or track star in America is paid, and not every soccer player in Russia gets a salary and free quarters. In fact, the great majority of Soviet athletes are no more professional than sandlot baseball players in America. Even some of the top athletes who compete in the Olympics are not professionals. For example, Arkady Vorobiev, a weight lifter, was a medical student when he won a world championship in 1955, and today he is a practicing physician. Occasionally a Soviet athlete is even deprived of his amateur status. In 1955 I was told of another weight lifter who was declared a professional when it was discovered that he was performing in a circus under the assumed name of Yan Tsigan for personal profit—which is against the rules of both Avery Brundage and Karl Marx.
NO ROOM AT THE TOP
Pointing to the millions of sportsmen on both sides of the Iron Curtain who receive no rewards for playing, Brundage and his supporters say that because a tiny percentage violates the rules is no reason to change them. "Because thieves exist is no reason for legalizing burglary," is the way one of his supporters put it.
But the sad fact is that those who cheat are the top champions. "It is true that only a small percentage of British runners violate the rules," Chris Chataway argues (see box on page 83). "But they are the top percentage. The rest don't take money to appear at a track meet because they are not offered any." And a former Olympic winner of France added: "Not 20% of the Olympic track champions are genuine amateurs."
Andre Chassaignon, a French sports editor, went even further: "Practically all international sportsmen in the championship category violate the Olympic rules." In 1959 Mr. Brundage sued Chassaignon for libel for writing that the Olympic oath and declaration, to which every participant must subscribe, are lies. Mr. Brundage won the suit, but Chassaignon maintains that he could have proved his point had he not refused to betray the confidences of his athlete friends.
Aside from the over-all question of accepting money for playing or winning, critics oppose specific Olympic rules which they claim make cheats out of athletes.
One of the most controversial of all the rules concerns "broken time payments," by which a promoter reimburses a player for salary lost while participating in a sports event. Brundage adamantly opposes broken time. "If we could solve the broken-time issue," one of Brundage's colleagues recently admitted, "it would put a large hole in the problem." Brundage defends his position by citing the experience of the Hungarian soccer federation. It decided to permit broken-time payments for international competitions, whereupon players immediately demanded broken-time payments for national competitions, then for local tournaments, then for training and, finally, for time spent getting a rubdown. In the end, the Hungarian federation found the whole situation so complicated that it simply authorized a monthly lump sum for players.
Opinions vary about how Brundage's stand should be modified. Some advocate that broken time should be paid not by employers but by Olympic committees. Others, with an eye to the Olympic committees' finances, object that if payments are made because one employer refuses to give an athlete paid leave, then payments will soon have to be made for other employers who now stand the loss themselves. Some say athletes should be given a fixed fee for broken time. Others suggest it should be equal to the player's regular pay. Some say there should be no limitations on broken time at all. Many think the entire issue is outdated, maintaining that the 40-hour week now prevalent allows plenty of time for practicing in the evenings and tournament playing on the weekend.