The Carter administration called in some of its heaviest hitters yesterday in an attempt to quell a feared rebellion among powerful U.S. sports bodies against the president's call for a boycott of the Summer Olympics.
With a vote on the boycott issue by the U.S. Olympic Committee possibly a week away, representatives of the national governing bodies of the 32 Olympic sports were summoned to the State Department for a 2 1/2-hour private briefing on the administration's position.
Defense Secretary Harold Brown, Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, White House counsel Lloyd Cutler and others repeatedly underscored President Carter's determination that no Americans compete in Moscow because of the Soviet invastion of Afghanistan.
If there had been any doubt, the president dispelled it with a mid-meeting telephone call in which he asked Christopher to relay his request that the sports officials support his stand when they meet April 12 in Colorado Springs.
The lobbying for pro-boycott votes intensified when it became apparent that there was mounting opposition to the boycott among the national governing bodies, the most powerful bloc in the USOC with 71 percent of the vote.
The USOC has until May 24 to accept an invitation to the Moscow Games, but the administration is hoping that a vote in support of a boycott will be taken next weekend.
"If the U.S. does not march into that stadium, the athletes of our allies will not march into that stadium either," said State Department spokesman Hodding Carter. "We are positive that a number of other countries would publicly and privately enlist in this effort as soon as [the USOC] makes its decision public and final."
There were mixed reactions on whether the administration had been able to win over the antiboycott faction and none of the roughly 80 persons at the meeting was willing to predict the outcome of the vote.
"They made it clear that they would prefer to have the USOC House of Delegates voluntarily vote not to go," said Michael Scott, a lawyer representing the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a voting member of the USOC.
After briefing the assembly on the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, Brown said he emphasized that the United States must also take "non-military actions" to show the Soviets "we mean business. If the Olympic committee votes to send a team to Moscow, they will be damaging our national security."
Asked how, Brown replied: "By going along with the Soviet attitude that the world, by attending the Olympics, is putting a stamp of approval on the Soviets' behavior. And, make no mistake, the Soviets will take such attendance as approval, and they will broadcast it to their people and the world as approval through worldwide television."
Agreeding that national security interests were at stake, Christopher said the administration made three main points during the meeting: the brutality involved in the invasion, the need for Americans to sacrifice to deter Soviet aggression and the need to send a message of condemenation to the Soviets.
"This [the last] is perhaps the most important point," Christopher said."If the United States were to decide to got to the Games at this point, it would be a condonation an approval of the Soviet agression in Afghanistan. It would show an indifference to their callous and brutal conduct."
Calling the sports group "responsible and responsive," Christopher said he thought they were leaving the meeting "with a clearer idea of the strength and convicton" of the president's position.
Christopher said no threats were made in the event that the sports officials vote against the administration. "We haven't reached that point yet," he said. "The president has said he will not prevent any individuals from traveling, but the United States will take strong measures to see that we are not represented at the Games by teams."
Irwin Birstin, representing the national governing body for fencing, said he thought some minds might have been changed by the session. "It was very helpful to have a little more background on the problem. We probably would have appreciated some of this consulation earlier in the game," he said.
Burt Shaw, representing water polo, said he still advocated going to Moscow. "They made a bad decision and they want us to bail them out with out vote," he said. "Their whole position was that we had to support them on the boycott, or else, and if we didn't we were un-American."
In a related action yesterday, the White House formally rejected a plan by the USOC's Athletes Advisory Council that would allow Americans to compete in Moscow while simultaneously protesting the invasion by refusing to participate in ceremonies or stay in the Soviet Union other than on the days when they were competing.