The 1980 Moscow Olympics started early. In the first event - the television' race - a suprise entry Satra, appeared to be the winner. But its claim was disallowed, apparently because of a false start, and the competitors returned to the startingblocks. The CBS refused to run because, it said, it could not see the obstacles clearly. Now NBC claims it has won and the Russian judges say they agree. But who knows? Is the race really over? And if it is, did NBC really win - or - lose by getting the contract?
Whatever happensM this has not been an auspicious beginning for the XXII Olympiad. It is, we suspect, just a forerunner of many controversial events before and during the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow come, after all, much more than just a collection of athletic events. They are now a part of international politics in which the image a national team, or host more with a lot people than the feats of individual athletes.
The success of NBC's venture depends heavily on what kind of an image the Soviet government wants to present. If it wants one that is generally favorable in western eyes, it will have to keep international politics out of question of who is allowed to complete. It will also have to run the games fairly, and to give NBC a free hand to cover the Olympics in a manner consistent with open societies. In that case, NBC may come out a big winner in the continuing contest for the attention of American television viewers, even though it is unlikely to recoup from advertisers its entire investment. But is the Soviet government choses, as it has done in the past in others matters, to insist on the right to decide what can be broadcast or to play politics with visas (as the Canadians did last year), NBC could be big loser. Its stake approaches $100,000,000 - much of it spent in advance, if the reports are accurate - so that it has more at risk than anyone than the Soviet Union the ahletes. If the games are cancelled or boycotted by American participants, both almost happened at Montreal - that stake will be worth very little.
We are troubled to see an American communications corporation become so heavily involved financial in an arrangement that would appear to give considerable leverage to the Soviet government. Once the games are underway, the need of NBC to produce its 80 or 90 or 100 hours of television will be so great that it will be under heavy pressure to cut corners to accomodate Soviets demands of the moment. Will it, for example, be able to report fully on conflicts over visas or disputes with officials over political protests by athletes Suppose something tragic happens, as it did at Munich, pff playing fields? Even if interference is explicity barred by the small print in strong enough, once the show is underway, is risk subtler demonstrations of official Soviet displeasure with its coverage, such as audio or video "technical difficulties?"
So we remain skeptical on several counts: the decision to hold these games in Moscow; the price tag put on the television rights; the essential wisdom of rotating the Olympics from nation to nation. And, above all, about the size, cost and political ramifications entailed in the whole Olympic program as it is now constituted. The first race of the 1980 games may be over. But we doubt anyone will know who exactly won it until the summer of that year.