President Carter has enlisted former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali to help muster Third World support for his efforts to have the 1980 Summer Olympics moved from Moscow, or postponed or canceled.
"At the president's request, Muhammad Ali has agreed to visit several African countries to discuss with their governments the issues of the Summer Olympic Games," State Department spokesman Hodding Carter said yesterday. o
Ali, who earlier this month endorsed President Carter in his bid for reelection and is expected to campaign for him, cut short a scheduled 12-day charity fund-raising tour of India and is expected to visit five or six countries in East and West Africa in the next eight days.
The U.S. Olympic Committee will propose to the International Olympic Committee at its meeting in Lake Placid, N.Y., Feb. 10-12, that the Games not be held in Moscow unless Soviet troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan by Feb. 20.
Failing that, President Carter has urged the United States and other nations not to send athletes to Moscow. Ali also will seek assurances from the nations he visits that they will pull out of the Games if they go on in Moscow July 19-Aug. 3.
The State Department said yesterday that Ali's itinerary was Still being developed," but it was learned he will attempt to visit Kenya and Tanzania -- nations with prospective Olympic gold medalists in track and field -- as well as Nigeria and other African nations influential in international sports federations.
A State Department official denied an Associated Press report from New Delhi quoting Ali as saying he would visit countries in the Middle East.
"His mission will last five or six days and will hit five or six countries in East and West Africa," said the official. "We havent't gotten permission yet from all the countries, so we are holding off on releasing an intinerary."
"This is not a publicity stunt, this is important," Ali told reporters on his arrival in New Delhi from Madras, where he has entertained 20,000 spectators at an exhibition bout. In a 30-minute airport talk, the Associated Press reported, he said Soviet aggression must be stopped "by whatever means," and advocated a "get-tough" attitude toward the Soviets.
"Kennedy did it, remember," Ali said, apparently referring to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. "They ran with [their] tail between their legs."
"I feel honored to be considered for this mission and that I am a man who can help in it," said Ali, who earlier offered to exchange himself for the American hostages in Iran.
Ali has been outspoken in his support for the presidents's position on the Olympics at home and abroad.
A State Department official said it was "possible but unlikely" that Ali, a Black Muslim, would subsequently be asked to enlist support in Islamic countries. "The Islamic nations already have taken a position on the Olympics very favorable to ours at the Islamic conference in Islamabad," said the official. "Frankly, that's the one area of the world where they really understand the import of the Afghan invasion."
White House counsel Lloyd Cutler estimated last weekend that at least 30 nations will support the U.S. position on the Moscow Olympics, and said discussions with more than 100 governments "are continuing at very high levels."
Meanwhile, the Olympic committees of at least 11 Western European nations have accepted invitations to a meeting in Frankfurt today to consider a coordinated response on the Moscow Games.