For American tourists wanting to attend the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, the Soviet Union is asking $1,550 in deposits months in advance and guaranteeing nothing specific.
According to the official tour plans revealed in recent weeks, the American committing himself to such a tour must sign a paper recognizing in precise terms that he is guaranteed neither a total tour price nor specific hotels, nor a specific airline to get there nor any particular number of type of Olympic tickets.
If the tourist cancels out, or the games are canceled, no specific refunds are assured. And, finally, the tourist will be permitted to stay in Moscow in most cases only five and at most 10 days during the 16-day Olympics. Some of the tickets made available to him may be for preliminary soccer matches in Kiev or Leningrad.
All of this has create quite a flap among Olympic fans, but complaints made to the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee are routinely being turned aside.
The operator of the New York travel agency that has the contract with the Soviets to sell tours to the 1980 games in the United States told the Los Angeles Times that he is slowly hammering out informal agreements with the Russians that give him confidence the tours will be satisfactory. He added that his firm is arranging private cancellation insurance in this country to insure refunds.
But already hundreds of persons originally planning to go, when confronted with the massive deposits, have opted out.
Ed Fox, the northern California-based tour director for the Track and Field News, Olympic Tours, said that when they got the details, 1,400 of the 3,300 persons who had put up $200 deposits for the traditional big track and field tour to the Olympics canceled out. Despit some special arrangements that seemed to insure seeing track and field events and spending 10 days in Moscow, they still would have had to sign the no-guarantee understandings.
In Los Angeles, tour organizer John D. Gracie wrote a letter to IOC President Lord Killanin informing him that his group of 38 had reviewed "these harsh requirements" and suspended its plans. He called the tour contract "the most outrageously one-sided agreement I have seen" and asked the Irish lord to intervene.
The reply Gracie got came from IOC Executive Director Monique Berlioux and simply told him, "I would suggest you address your comments to the United States Olympic Committee."
A call to an official USOC spokesman drew the advice that complainers contact the travel firm marketing the tours.
In Great Britain, meanwhile, travel agents who hope to market Moscow Olympic tours to Britons recently told a Guardian correspondent who made inquiries about the situation there that they were planning to go to Moscow to negotiate terms but that Britons would never be willing to buy the kind of deal Americans are being offered.
The British agents said they fear that the Soviets are mainly interested in marketing tours to other parts of the Soviet Union and simply throw in a few less popular Olympic events as a drawing card for the tours. The agents said they have been informed that a lot of the tickets the Russians plan to make available will be for the prelimminary soccer events in Kiev and Lenigrad and not for the big, class events in Moscow.
The British agents also indicated that they would press the Russians for far better terms than Americans are being offered.
The Soviets are offering American tourists 8,000 beds a night in Moscow, the largest number available to any foreign nation. By limiting the duration of individual stays, the plan is the 20,000 Americans in all could come to the city during the games.
In a telephone interview recently, E. Wallace Lawrence, president of the Russian Travel Bureau, the New York firm that is the authorized marketer of the tours in the United States, said that while "on the surface" the tours being offered to Americans do not seem too good or certain in their details, he is confident things will work out satisfactorily.
"We've had very few... who've felt that the thing is a ripoff," Lawrence said. "We try to contact each personally and talk to them...
"As businessmen who have dealt with the Soviet Union, we feel that the proposition is a reasonable one, and it's going to be improving month by month in terms of more details and in terms of a cancellation policy."
Lawrence said that after protracted talks, the Russians have indicated to him they would make available 1.7 Olympic event tickets per American tourist per day at Olympic sites. Some of these, he said, are for the preliminary soccer events in Leningrad and Kiev, but many are for "events Americans are interested in, such as track and field, swimming, basketball, boxing and gymnastics."
The tour company operator said that, based on a survey of those expressing interest in going to the games, he thought such a number would be adequate since many of those signing up indicate interest in seeing other things in Russia besides the Olympics and they might be satisfied with one ticket a day, while more sports-minded people take more.
Most of those going on the tours will spend six nights in Moscow and seven nights in other cities, he said. "First class" Moscow hotels or university apartments will be used in that city, according to the understandings.
Lawrence noted that the terms call for tourists committing themselves to the tours to deposit $500 immediately and make $350 installment payments in March, June and September 1979, and then pay the balance, whatever it may be by that time, in January 1980, a full seven months before the games.
The buyer must sign this statement among others:
"I understand that no refunds will be permitted if I, for any reason whatsoever, cancel my reservation," although the statement does go on to open the possibility of offering substitutes.
But Lawrence said that in addition to the cancellation insurance he is pressing the Russians to agree to a 90-day cancellation refund policy.
"We lay it right on the line we can't guarantee things," he added. "But our judgment on costs -- based on costing that we were given by the Soviets, projections of airfares -- is they won't change that much (over the deposits). And the price does not include tickets to the Olympics (priced at from $4,50 to $40 each), but does include everything else, meals, hotels, transport, tours outside of Moscow and so forth."
Nonetheless, experienced Olympic tourists from the United States say that the terms offered by the Soviets are much more restrictive of visitors than any other ever offered at any Olympic games, even the Olympics in Nazi Germany in 1936. This, for instance, is the first Olympics to which American visitors must agree, in effect, to stop over in no other country en route to or from. The chartered airline trips will be nonstop New York to the Soviet Union, and probably half will be on Russia's Aeroflot airlines, which are not renowned for their service.
The nub of the problem, however, is Point 2 of the agreement that all those Americans committing themselves to the tours must sign:
"I understand that Russian Travel Bureau cannot guarantee me any of the following:
"(a) A specific class of accommodation.
"(b) A specific type of travel arrangement, or
"(c) The number and type of Olympic envnt tickets which I will be able to purchase."