Those strutting peacocks who are impressed with their own U.S. Olympic Committee blazers have sent a clear message to the president of the United States on the issue of boycotting the Moscow Olympics: It is they who will decide what is in the best interests of United States; not Mr. Carter, who was elected for that purpose by 49,825,939 votes.
They reject President Carter's view that the U.S. team should pull out of the Moscow games, right now, as a thumping rebuke to Soviet Russia for its unconscionable invasion of Afghanistan. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance has said flatly that we should. Hodding Carter, the State Department spokesman who does not speak without clearance, praised the proposal the other day as "a straightforward statement to the Soviets that we do not intend to participate as if nothing had happened."
To proceed as usual, as if nothing had happened, is the intent of the U.S. Olympic officials, as if 85,000 uninvited Soviet soldiers were not inside Afghanistan, as if U.S. interests were not affected and as if U.S. participation in Moscow would not be an endorsement of the Soviets as everybody's good neighbor.
Yet another example of the USOC's exorbitant sense of importance was rendered Friday when its people left the White House after a 2 1/2-hour conference on a U.S. boycott. Newsmen were reminded by Don Miller, executive director of the USOC, that when Olympic invitations are sent out by the international committee they go not to governments but to the various Olympic committees of the several nations. "Decisions of this kind must be made within the system," he said. In other words, this whole thing was none of the government's business.
The USOC believes it is so sovereign that even the government can't interfere with the sacred rights of its Olympics. Oh, if it came to a shooting war, said USOC President Robert Kane recently, "then we'd have to reassess our thinking." Then they would dwell upon whether or not to pull our team out of Moscow. At least give it some thought.
A statement sufficient to cause a laughing fit among those who know the USOC people best is their declaration that if President Carter requests a boycott, they will "immediately poll prospective members of the U.S. team to ascertain their feelings about such an action," and be guided by it.
This new gimmick of asking the athletes if they still want to go to Moscow would delude nobody. They are asking athletes conditioned to believe there is no greater glory than being in the Olympics and are playing on the passions of young men and women who have trained long for the chance, and they know what the answer would be before they ask the question. That would be the ultimate charade.
Also, a good question at this point is: When was the Olympic committee ever before concerned by what the U.S. athletes thought about anything? Why this sudden solicitude toward their tender feelings? A good answer is that they desperately want the athletes to give them an out, spurious as it may be, to take them off the hook, and to get them all off on this glorious junket to Moscow where the caviar and the champagne and the chauffered limousines and the gifts await the committee elite.
I have covered five of these things, and there is no scene to compare with the social activity of the Olympic committee horde before and during the games. In the host nation, they are royalty. They have their own castes, dictating who gets the best hotel suites, the best cars and drivers, the most goodies from the commercial sponsors of the games.
The handouts are exciting. Those sweat suits the athletes wear, gogeous ones and expensive, go to certain committee men for the requistioning. One of 'em hears about the official Olympic luggage they are giving away to certain privileged folk somewhere in the Olympic Village, and there's a stampede in the direction. At Munich, any committee man who wasn't wearing Adidas or Puma footwear simply wasn't aware where they could be had, for free. There is much more.
A contrast with the values of the USOC people was offered by Muhammad Ali, who has a history of saying bright things. ("I ain't got nothing against those Viet Congs.") Coming out strongly in favor of boycotting the Moscow games, Ali said, "I feel the American people should do everything they can to show their dislike for what they (the Soviets) are doing . . . Sports don't mean nothing. When war breaks out we can forget everything. If it means sacrificing the Olympics to wake these people up, it's all worth while."
He was a gold medalist in the 1960 games, and seems to be telling the USOC people something that should have been hammered into their heads many years ago: that other things in the world are as precious as their Olympic joy ride, and that the Olympics are not bigger than life.
The American sense of self-respect should figure somewhere in this, too. At a time when Soviet behavior has outraged the American government and people (and governments and peoples all around the world), an Olympic team determined to accept an invitation to Moscow would be going there on bended knees -- yet the shameless USOC is willing.