AN OPEN letter to Olympic athletes.
No doubt many of you are confused and frustrated over a proposed Olympic boycott. In our dream world of organized, top-flight sports, we are too frequently cocooned from the real world by our own personal ambitions. We athletes are very single-minded; sometimes to a fault. Then every once in a while we are jolted back to realty. The crises in Afghanistan and Iran have made all of us stop and think.
Most of you are young, under 30. You have been training at least three and in some cases 10 years to make the U.S. Olympic team. And now you are being asked to consider a boycott of the very goal that has obsessed you these past few years.
On Feb. 10, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will meet to discuss and possibly decide one of two things: Whether to stage this summer's Moscow games come what may or to move and/or postpose the games.
This weekend, the Olympic Committee is meeting in Colorado Springs to discuss these issues and possibly begin polling some 10,000 of you to get a general idea of how you feel about the matter of a boycott.
I personally do not, at present, favor such a boycott. But, as a tangible, important, and significant indication of our displeasure toward the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, such a move would have great impact.
Even though your vote is not binding on the USOC, being imformed about your decision should at least make you feel good about it. Having been involved in situations where sports and politics conflicted, I offer the following questions for you to ponder before you cast your vote.
1. Since President Carter has set a deadline of Feb. 20 for the Russians to withdraw from Afghanistan, why not wait until March 1 to vote? Why should you be asked to vote before Feb. 20? wThough I seriously doubt that the Russians will withdraw, you have nothing to lose by waiting.
2. Don't you think it is better to vote by teams? Why not try to schedule some mass meetings of the various U.S. teams to air the issues before you vote? The feedback will do you all some good and this process will force you to think seriously before casting your ballot.
3. Almost 70 percent of Americans support the president on this matter. Would you feel like a traitor if you voted against him?
4. Will moving or postposing the Olympics irreparably damage the movement? This compromise by President Carter is seen as a safety valve. Lord Killanin, the president of the IOC, has said the time is too for gone to think of moving or postponing the Games. The IOC has a contract with the Soviets and it cannot be broken. How sacred is this contract to you? Perhaps your moral outrage at this Russian invasion countermands this agreement between the IOC and Moscow.
5. Are you familiar with the problems of the '36 Olympics in Berlin; the '68 Mexico Games; the '72 Munich games, and the '76 Montreal Games? If you are not, find out. And add to those case histories the Russians invasions of Hungary in '56 and of Czechoslovakia in '68. It may also interest you to note that since World War II, every inch of territory seized by the Russians has remained under Soviet domination.
6. Within your own set of standards, should sports and politics be kept separate? This question goes to the heart of the dilemma for most of you. If you believe they should be kept separate, then you'd likely vote no to a boycott. If your beliefs are not so firmly entrenched, you're left to weigh this case on its own merits.
7. How would you feel if the United States boycotted the games and every other nation participated? This is another way of asking whether you have the courage of your convictions. I hope you do, no matter how you vote.
8. Do you feel the USOC is using you to try to influence President Carter later? Probably not, but obviously it's in the USOC's interest that the Games go on. If they can show solid support from the athletes, they help their case with the president. Before you vote, ask your respective coaches how they feel. My guess is you would be hard pressed to find among them a dissenter from the USOC position. But don't let anyone make up your mind for you, including me.
None of you should expect a concensus after the polling is finished. A goodly number of you will vote yes to a boycott and many will vote no. During this exercise, how you make up your mind is ultimately more important than your final decision.
Most of us act on the basis of what we believe, not what we think. It is our emotionally held beliefs that move us. Now is a good time to give your beliefs some thought. If, in the end, you do go to Moscow, give 'em hell.