The decision to give the honored right to hold the Olympic Games in the capital of the world’s first socialist state has become a convincing testimony to the general recognition of the historical importance and correctness of the foreign political course of our country.— U.S.S.R. Communist Party handbook for Party militants
From the day the ancient Olympic Games were revived to encourage French men to get in shape for an anticipated war with Germany, the Olympics have been fraught with political overtones.
The murmurs from closed-door government sessions have reverberated in the locker rooms and across Olympian fields since 1896, and in the Hippodrome before then, even as the curators of the Games charter repeat, “Sport and politics do not mix.” Yet never has z that hollow protest seemed ¡= so naïve, nor the din from w behind the doors been so § loud as last week. œ
“The Olympics in Moscow will be one of the most important events in world sports and none of the dirty intrigues of the masterminds of the boycott can prevent this.” The Soviet news agency, Tass, was responding to announcements by the Canadian and West German governments that they would support U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s movement to boycott the Summer Games—63 days after Carter’s first official plea to his allies. The announcements came in the midst of a three-day meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, of 26 Olympic sports federations and the executive of the International Olympic Committee. At the request of the Soviet Union, the committees had been meeting downtown (the executive in the IOC’s lakeside retreat, the Chateau de Vidy) in an effort to save the 22nd Olympiad. They were about as successful as the U.S. raiders in Iran.
The Canadian decision to support the boycott came on the eve of U.S. Secre-
tary of State Cyrus Vance’s visit to Ottawa (during which he was expected to lobby strongly) and ended Canada’s vacillation, dating back to January, on the issue of the Soviet take-over of Afghanistan. Then-prime minister Joe Clark said it would be inappropriate to attend the Games, while Pierre Trudeau maintained he would support an “effective” boycott—one endorsed by Third World countries. Yet last Tuesday, April 22, External Affairs Minister Mark MacGuigan told a quarter-full House of Commons that Canada would support the boycott, saying: “This government believes that the international situation brought about by Soviet aggression in Afghanistan makes it wholly inappropriate to hold the Olympics in Moscow.” MacGuigan stated that there would be no coercion of athletes, no withdrawal of passports (the U.S. government threatened its athletes and potential spectators with such action), “but should
Canadian athletes participate in Moscow, they will do so without the moral or financial support of the government of Canada.” (Trudeau governments are not new to Games politics. It was Trudeau’s stance against Taiwan competing as the Republic of China at the 1976 Montreal Games that launched Taiwanese athletes into the Olympic void.)
Trudeau and MacGuigan insisted that the announcement was timed to coincide with West Germany’s and to predate the meeting of the Canadian Olympic Association (COA) on the weekend, not as a gesture to Cyrus Vance. MacGuigan said it was only the previous weekend in Salisbury, Zimbabwe, when he talked to more than 20 ministers and heads of government, “that I had the opportunity of coming to a firm conclusion that an Olympic boycott would be effective.” It was there too, he said, that he was able to “co-ordinate strategies for this boycott” with Germany.
The reaction of the Canadian Olympic Association, some athletes and the U.S. government was as predictable as the pronouncement by Tass. Cyrus Vance said he was pleased. COA President Dick Pound accused the Liberal government of “Mickey Mouse” politics, calling the boycott “the most flagrant use of the Games for political purposes that has occurred in modern times.” While some Canadian athletes and sports bodies (including the Calgary group seeking the 1988 Winter Games) supported the government, others, like pentathlon hopeful Diane Jones-Konihowski, protested. “I’m going to try and fight by going as an individual,” she said.
The CBC reacted almost before the government had a chance, as MacGuigan put it, to “use all the means at its disposal to dissuade the CBC from covering the Olympics.” Wednesday, CBC President A. W. Johnson announced cancellation of planned live and delayed radio and TV coverage. The public corporation is liable for payment of $2.4 million for coverage rights and rental of facilities. Yet coupled with the loss of an anticipated commercial revenue of $3.8 million, the cost of boycott to the CBC is still millions less than that of the National Broadcasting Corporation of the U.S., estimated at $87 million. About 2,000 Canadians have paid up to $2,700 for trips to Moscow, but will get back all but $100 if they cancel.
In a last-ditch effort to save the Games, IOC President Lord Killanin announced that the athletes could march under the Olympic flag or any other symbol, if that would help, and offered to meet with Carter and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev. “I can’t make the situation any worse,” Killanin said. But a meeting is unlikely. Brezhnev is
on holidays and Carter is otherwise occupied.
Though the U.S. state department now claims that 52 nations support the boycott, news agencies can identify only 37. And as it is the national Olympic committees, not governments, that respond to the Soviet invitation to the Games, there will be rough spots ahead. As the IOC convened in Lausanne, West German athletes staged a torchlight demonstration in Dortmund to express their desire to compete. (The West German Olympic Committee has indicated it will not decide until May 15.) And as Killanin offered to meet Carter and Brezhnev, 19 U.S. amateur athletes, joined by a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee executive and a U.S. coach, asked a district judge to void the April
12 decision of the USOC to boycott, seeking a class action on behalf of all U.S. Olympians.
And as the COA prepared to meet on the weekend to decide whether or not to support the Trudeau government stance, another, somewhat ironic, announcement was made. The Canada Cup professional hockey series, involving the Soviet Union, would go ahead as planned in September.
The COA voted 137-35 to join the growing boycott movement, with the Soviets and IOC maintaining that the Games will go on. Vladimir Popov, deputy chairman of the Soviet Olympic Organizing Committee, put it succinctly, “We don’t need Coca-Cola.”
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