In downtown Moscow at this very hour thousands of visitors to the Olympic Games -- journalists, athletes and ardent sports fans -- are hunkering about, dodging 200,000 Soviet security agents. Over this joyous sports festival the American flag does not fly, a deficiency for which Jimmy Carter is in very hot water with Lord Killanin, preeminent potentate of the Comite International Olympique (IOC). Briefly put, his lordship finds our great president ill-informed on "sporting matters."

In a fuller explication of his complaint, this illustration international sportsman lamented that when the Carter administration decided to boycott, "they did not understand how sport is organized in the world. They did not understand how national Olympic committees work. They did not understand the workings of the International Olympic Committee. They did not understand the workings of the international federations and national federations." It is an awesome array of charges.

How could our president be so ignorant of the ritual and science of Lord Killanin's IOC? Carter himself was once district governor of the Lions International (1968-1969), and he hails from an area abundant with Elks, Moose, Rotarians and societies of less favored repute. What did he think the IOC was anyway?

Last week, as dutiful members of the KGB were smashing cameras and kicking groins, I repaired to my archives there to steep myself in the lore of the IOC. There was much to learn, and I certainly wish Ham and Jody had called me before upsetting Lord Killanin. I would have referred them to several learned tomes essential for understanding Lord Killanin's arcane world -- namely, "The Approved History of the Olympic Games" by William Henry and Patricia Henry Yeomans, "Olympic Cavalcade" by F. A. M. Webster and "Positive Thinkers" by Donald Mayer.

The IOC is no dilettantes' clique. Oh no! It is an idea, a dream, a movement, a gathering of men wearing blazers who come from all over the world to further certain numinous principles and, admittedly, to have a few drinks. The founder of the modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), was a scholar and educator who believed that much of the Greeks' Golden Age was owing to their emphasis on sport and sports festivals. As he entered the 20th century, the baron hoped thay by reviving the Olympics the 20th century would be more peaceful and civilized than the century he was then exiting. I leave it to Lord Killanin and to the exaltes of the IOC to judge the Olympic movement's success in this area.

Since the first Games in 1896, the IOC has grown heavy with honors and responsibilities. Its headquarters is in Lausanne, Switzerland, and its members are elected for life after the most vigorous scrutiny. Once elevated to the Comite, their first loyalty must be to it, not to nationality, an arrangement somewhat similar to that of the Sacred College of Cardinals.

In the course of carrying out its high purposes, the IOC awards cups and diplomas to local Olympic federations, and it holds the Olympic Games. The Games are circumscribed by the most grandiose ceremony. No meeting of Shriners or Knights of Pythias can match them.

There is the greeting of the host Country's chief of state by the IOC president; there are the entry parade, the official uniforms, the trumpet fanfare, the raising of the Olympic flag, the release of the Olympic pigeons, the artillery salute, the arrival of the sacred flame (a sine qua non ), the benediction and the singing of the glorious Olympic hymn -- all are punctiliously prescribed in the sacred manuel by the boys back in Lausanne. During this swell pageant every IOC member sways and beams.

The games have been held every four years except during World War I and World War II. Why the hell the IOC would allow a world war to interrupt their schedule is incomprehensible. Surely in 1940 and 1944 the late Adolf would have gladly hosted them. His 1936 facilities were still intact. Yet if the IOC did not want to distract der Fuehrer , why didn't they ask Mussolini? We all know how much he liked parades, hymns and artillery salutes. For that matter, Papa Brezhnev adores parades. My gues is that he would gladly host the Olympics every year, especially if the ceremonial opening march could include some tanks and short-range ballistic missiles.

At the end of every Olympiad, the IOC president, in accordance with the IOC ritual, asks the youth of the world to reassemble in four years. "May they display cheerfulness and concord," he boolms, "so that the Olympic torch may be carried with ever greater eagerness, courage and honor for the good of humanity throughout the ages." After the Games, I hope Lord Killanin will read this glorious statment in every Afghan village, once the poison gas has cleared.