If it is true that a cat has nine lives, the Olympic bill that passed Congress last week was a litter.
After decades of attempts to end the strife beseting the U.S. amateur sports community, Congress finally passed the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 that soon will go to the President for his signature.
A number of times it seemed dead, only to be revived by supporters anxious to bring peace to the nation's amateur sports community and fed up with all the other innumberable studies and hearings that proved futile.
It was not until the President's Commission on Olympic Sports, upon whose recommendations this act is based, completed its two-year study on amateur sports that meaningful reforms seemed within grasp.
But, reform came with a price tag that very nearly doomed the bill in the end. The final product was the result of a delicately crafted compromise between the House and Senate and some not so delicate lobbying.
The $16 million that Congress eventually authorized in the closing hours of the session was controversial, but not so unpalatable as the original $30 million over which House opponents strenuously objected.
Opponents of what the USOC has pledged could be a one-time request for federal aid were skeptical about that promise and suspicious that the money might be used to fattern salaries or create new openings for favored friends in an ever-burgeoning bureaucracy.
No, USOC officials and congressional supporters countered, the money would be used for the reorganization of the USOC and the establishment of national training centers and computer and sports medicine programs.
Originally, $18 million was to be used for the first and $12 million for the latter over a four-year period beginning with fiscal 1980.
Now, USOC Executive Director F. Don Miller said, the $16 million that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) persuaded Congress to provide in a continuing appropriations resolution separate from the bill will probably be broken down 10-6 along the same lines.
Miller said the money would be requested from the Secretary of Commerce, probably in increments of $4 million a year. Under a amendment from Rep. Robert H. Michel (R-III.) that Stevens also introduced in the Senate, th USOC must deal for the Secretary and Congress how the funds were used the previous year and their projected use the next year.
The Secretary of Commerce has discretion in awarding the funds and, under the amendments, both chambers have oversight through their appropriations committees.
The purpose of the bill is to strengthen the USOC as the central coordinating agency for the nation's amateur sports groups in Olympic and Pan American competition.
The core of the reorganization is the establishment of criteria for becoming a national governing body (NGB) in one of the 32 Olympic or Pan Am sports. The requirements provide, among other things, for athletes to make up 20 percent of the NGB's membership and for the reasonable representation of other U.S. sports groups that operate active programs in the NGB's sport.
It is through these latter provisions that women, the handicapped and minorities will have a greater role in shaping their sport's future.
Those groups, said Donna deVarona, Olympic gold medalist in swimming and a member of th e President's Committee, "have always needed protection and now their own organizations will have the ability to tie in with those (NGBs)."
Another major change is that the bill require that the NGBs be self-incorporated and completely autonomous in the operation of their sport. An NGB cannot be a member of more than one international sports federation that governs a Pan Am or Olympic sport.
That membership restriction is the key to breaking up the power-bloc control of the USOC and it helps asure that decisions affecting the sport will be made by people active in or knowledgable about them.
That restriction also has a significant impact on the Amateurs Athelic Union because the AAU will have to divest itself of at least six of its remaining seven franchieses in Olympic sports - a course that AAU officers say was begun long ago at the direction of the general membership.
Another major accomplishment of this bill is that it, indirectly, protests the rights of amateur athletes to compete in international competition- the goal that all the past legislation elusively sought.
Edward G. Williams, who chairs the 42-member Athletes' Advisory Councilto the USOC, was ecstatic that the bill passed.
"We're elated because at last it will bring untiy to our fragmented amateur sports system in the United States," said Williams, an Olympic skier. "The athletes have supported this bill from the start. They saw the possibility of resolving disputes in a forum either before an arbitrator or the USOC without having to go to court.