Nearly everyone critical of President Carter's proposed Olympic boycott insists it might destroy the Games "as we know them." Wonderful. That is even more justification for avoiding Moscow in July.

The Games, as we know them, have been the most overrated events in athletic history, monuments to hypocrisy. The Games, as we know them, have been ruled by ancient men with narrow vision, who preach that politics has no place in sport but whose practice has been to politicize sport by bending basic rules to pacify the largest number of nations.

The Games, as we know them, have become too expensive, too dangerous and too vulnerable, to easily used as a large stage by anyone with a small grievance and abused by boycotts of Olympian proportion.

The Games, as we know them, should have ended a few hours after the murders in Munich eight years ago.

And yet the implications here are sad. It does not follow that the present Olympic format, if destroyed for whatever humane reasons, would be replaced with a better one. Or anything at all. Which would mean that what little hope there is for diversity in American sport might well vanish.

The blunt fact is that Americans, from the president through Congress through the typical fans, only care deeply about the Olymipcs perhaps four months out of every four years. Or now, when it is convenient, when it not only is morally proper but also the way to offer the toughest stand with the least sacrifice.

Amateur American athletes are angry with professional American policymakers this weekend -- and properly so. They always are the last group to be consulted about matters important to their fate; they are the first to be undercut in an economic and political pinch.

Few Americans can name 10 American Olympians from the most recent Games.

Fewer realize that America's best athlete, in terms of traditional athletic virtues, is not a major-league baseball or football player but a hurdler, Edwin Moses.

Less than a year after he won the 400-meter hurdles in Montreal, Moses and his Morehouse College teammates were scratching daily for a place to train, for a fit track and a decent time to use it.

There has been modest debate in recent years about what America owes her amateur athletes, the ones who bring her pleasure and occasional inspiration. It says here the government ought to offer little more than a chance to compete and a place to train. Even that is given grudgingly.

Many of the same politicians so anxious to use athletes to bludgeon the Soviets for brutalities in Afghanistan have been stubborn about appropriating money to develop training sites throughout the country.

As a nation, we tell our young that the Olympics are the American athletic dream, that a gold medal is worth effort beyond imagination. Then we amost work to make that dream impossible to achieve.

We make it exceedingly difficult for anyone other than a football or basketball player to earn a scholarship to college. And even tougher for the athlete to develop his skills beyond college.

American attitudes about amateurism have been changing, if ever so slowly, to the point where commercialism is tolerated if not totally encouraged.

What Little League baseball player has not had the name of a local hardware store stitched to the back of her jersey, exchanging publicity for a chance to play and equipment? What is the harm of Hilton using Frank Shorter's name to enhance its own?

I would just as soon be hustled by Bruce Jenner as by Orson Welles.

In sport, interest always precedes money.If a community or college or nation cares about an athlete, he will achieve his potential. Unitl this year, we have had one speed-skating rink in the entire country -- and the best speed skaters in the world.

As a beacon for international brotherhood, the Olympic flame has long since been dimming. Even if the Soviets had kept their tanks at home, America was not necessarily going to send her athletes to Moscow.

Secretly, policy was being shaped that would allow many, if not all, American athletes to stay outside the Soviet Union during the Games. They would be housed, perhaps, in Oslo or West Berlin, commute to Moscow for the opening ceremony and for their events.

It is especially ironic that American athletes are being asked their opinion on the Olympic boycott. Nobody polled them on any other issues affecting their lives -- or cared to listen to them when policy ran counter to their best interests.

In truth, this is one time the athletes' views should not be significant. President Carter should not change his mind regardless of how loud or how unified are the cries from the athletes or the U.S. Olympic Committee.

They either are too young or too biased to have pivotal input in so critical a decision. If necessary, Carter should say "Sorry, you're not going" and close debate.

Last night the USOC went about as far as anyone expected, which was not very far. It voted unanimously to ask the International Olympic Committee Feb. 10 either to move or postpone the Moscow Games, but failed to act on Carter's specific call for a boycott.

The USOC and the athletes are desperately hoping for a dramatic change in Soviet attitude, though their squishy-soft stand hardly will provide much incentive. A divided America on this issue -- atletes and athletic officials vs. their government -- will fuel the very propaganda within the U.S.S.R. the boycott notion was designed to stifle.

But the country should not consider the athletes' protests as traitorous. What other group, when faced with such a devastating blow, would not yell, very loud and very long: "Why me?"

It is unforgivable to expect athletes to whom we have given largely empty promises, so little attention and so little support, to bear so major a burden in silence.