By the time any governing body is in power long enough to become known as "the establishment" it develops a tendency to serve its own interests rather than those of the public.
This can be as true of a reform administration in City Hall as it is of the Congress, the board of directors of the Amalgamated Buggywhip Corp., or even the Holier Than Thou Charitable Foundation.
When I was younger, the U.S. Olympic Committee was one of my untouchables. It was like the Red Cross, Ann Landers and leading the fourth of your longest and strongest suit against a three no trump contract.
No decent, respectable person would challenge any of these pillars upon which American civilization rests, would he?
No, not as long as he remains young and naive.
In recent weeks, however, many Americans became sophisticated enough to realize that the U.S. Olympic Committee had become a rigid and doctrinaire establishment that was fanatically intent upon protecting its own turf at all costs, even if that meant opposing a policy set by the president of the United States.
When President Carter first said he was opposed to our sending athletes to Moscow and explained why, our Olympic Committee was horror-struck. A boycott was "unthinkable," one spokesman said. Moving the games to another site was "impossible." And "politics" must not be permitted to intrude into the games. In this context, a bloody invasion of another country is "politics."
Gradually, however, the stonewalling gave way to reality. On Sunday, after Mr. Carter stated his views firmly, the USOC began shuffling its feet and moving toward a more intelligent position. It said, well, gee whiz, if the president is really serious about our not going to Moscow, holy mackerel, we didn't really intend to secede from the Union. We will, of course, consult with our executive board, and with the athletes, however misguided they may be.
Thanks a heap, fellows. It's nice to know that the mule has been hit in the face with a 2-by-4 and that we now have its attention.
For those who think the Olympic Games are the epitome of pure amateur competition unmarred by political or nationalistic concerns, permit me to cite some factual background.
Until 1952, the Russkies boycotted the Olympic Games.
Their official position was that they didn't care to contaminate their idealistic young people by having them associate with decadent athletes from the free world.
The truth was that they weren't prepared to compete.
"Between 1948 and 1952, the Soviet government lavished millions of dollars on a national sports program designed to develop international champions. The Russians admitted that they intended to use the Olympic Games for propaganda purposes." The quotation is from "An Illustrated History of the Olympics" by Richard Schaap, foreward by Sargent Shriver, published by Alfred A. Knopf.
It was obvious that the Russians were saying, "Until we have assembled a team of the finest amateurs that money can buy, we will not compete."
In 1952, the USSR entered the summer Olympic Games. The games haven't been the same since.
Cheating has replaced sportsmanship as the Olympic standard, even to the point of attempts to enter males in events for females. Sportsmanship, which had taken it on the chin in 1936, declined further.
A District Liner who questioned the wisdom of not sending our athletes to Moscow wrote to me, "Remember Hitler's embarrassment when he had to award the gold medal to a black man, Jesse Owens, in 1936? Wouldn't it be better for force the Russians to congratulate our winners than to prevent our athletes from going to Moscow?"
The fact is that when a German won on the first day, Hitler made a big deal of the medal presentation. But when Jesse Owens won on the following day, Hitler left the arena in unseemly haste. He snubbed Owens, one of the greatest athletes of all time, who won four gold medals.
In all of this foofaraw about the Russkies and the Olympics, the thing that touched me most was a phone call from Capt. George Prujan, one-time officer in the Russian Army and survivor of a 2,000-mile horseback ride across Siberia. At age 81, he faces surgery at Sibley Hospital today. He phoned me Saturday night to say, "You are 1,000 percent right about our participation in the Olympics. Keep on telling the truth."
At 81 you're a mere boy, captain. Get well quickly and I'll challenge you to a vodka-drinking contest -- if you'll permit me to bring along a couple of my National Press Club buddies. All right, so perhaps they don't exactly qualify as amateur drinkers. Let's not get politics involved in this.