The 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid will begin in 15 days and the Russians are coming. The Russians are coming despite the growing possibility that American athletes will not be going to Moscow next summer.
Some athletes, among others, have questioned why the Soviets will be allowed to participate in our Games if we are not going to participate in theirs. Alan Page, a lineman for the Chicago Bears, received a standing ovation from 500 people when he raised the issue in a speech last weekend.
Steve Riddick, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meters, said recently that President Carter "is just talking about half the Olympics. Why are we having the Russians here?"
Government officials say they have never considered banning the 114 Soviet athletes from the Lake Placid Games, that to do so would miss the point of the Moscow boycott, and that such a move would be ineffective and would needlessly undermine the Olympic movement.
President Carter called Petr L. Spurney, the general manager of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee (LPOOC), to assure him that the Moscow boycott would not endanger the Lake Placid Games. The White house dispatched Air Force One to Greece Sunday to bring the Olympic flame here. None-the-less, Spurney is concerned.
"Many people are assuming there is a boycott of Lake Placid," said Spurney, a Washington engineer. "They think it is an Olympic boycott."
As a result, Spurney has been spreading the word that the Winter Games will go on. "We anticipate a possible impact in terms of ticket sales and fund-raising and we want to make sure there isn't one," Spurney said. "We'll know in a week if we are successful."
LPOOC officials say there has been a dip in ticket sales during the last three weeks and that there was a lag in fund-raising during the Christmas season, but that business is now brisk. Officials estimate that 80 percent of the 550,000 tickets printed (150,000 of which were sold to tour operators on a non-refundable basis) have been sold for an estimated $12 million.
Lloyd Cutler, presidential counsel, said, "The decision was reached early on to do nothing to change Lake Placid. The point is not competing against Soviet athletes but going to Moscow under circumstances where the Soviets have portrayed the selection of Moscow for the 1980 summer Olympics as world recognition of the merit of their foreign policy and of their contribution to world peace.
"The president said explicitly in his letter to the USOC that we'll welcome athletes from any country and the same applies to Los Angeles, if we are not all in Greece by then."
Cutler added, "We're not trying to get any political advantage out of Lake Placid. We just hope to God it snows."
Lake Placid got one inch Monday night.
Joseph Onek, the deputy counsel to the president, stressed that the administration's objection was not "to be competing with Russian athletes in Lake Placid or elsewhere," but to be competing in Russia.
By refusing to compete in Moscow, the administration hopes to deprive the Soviets of a public relations coup, the ultimate photo opportunity provided by worldwide television coverage.
"There's not much political use the Russians can make of their athletes competing in international competition," Onek said. c
"There is no comparable effectiveness" in barring Soviet athletes from the U.S. and such a move, Onek said, "would be far more undermining of the Olympic movement."
Of course, the administration is not anxious to be seen as an Olympic rule-breaker or as an international party-pooper.
The Moscow boycott, officials say, is a matter of principle. Economic considerations and "Lake Placid's plans are not relevant factors," Onek said.
Sen. David H. Pryor (D-Ark) introduced one of five Senate resolutions supporting the Moscow boycott, none of which suggested barring the Soviets from Lake Placid. "I'd like to think we're bigger than that," Pryor said. That would be "the Soviet response," he added, "and I don't think we have to play that game."
Robert J. Kane, president of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), said Lake Placid "was never a concern."
"Lake Placid has not done anything wrong, like the Soviets have," he said.
"The thing is not logical."
LPOOC officials say that the government could not uninvite the Soviets even if it wanted to. Rule 3 of the IOC charter states that "no discrimination . . . is allowed against any country or person on grounds of race, religion or politics."
In October 1976, President Gerald R. Ford sent IOC President Lord Killanin a telegram pledging "that every team recognized by the International Olympic Committee will be welcomed at Lake Placid in 1980."
Of course, as Kane pointed out, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made a similar pledge before the 1976 games in Montreal and then violated it when he ordered Taiwan excluded from competition.
The IOC anticipated that the Soviets might bar athletes from competing in Moscow for political reasons, said one Olympic official.
As a result, the IOC "requested that Moscow and Lake Placid develop a no-visa policy for athletes," Spurney said.
The agreement, reached this fall, stipulates that any athlete who is a member of his national team, who has a passport and an identity card issued by the organizing committee will be eligible to participate, Spurney said, "whether or not there are diplomatic relations between the countries. The State Department agreed to this."
Some have wondered whether the Soviets might boycott the U.S. Games before the Americans get a chance to boycott theirs. IOC regulations would make this difficult to do.
In response to the boycott of the 1976 games by African nations, the IOC passed a rule that says that a country may not withdraw from the Games after it has registered for them (the registration date for Lake Placid was Dec. 19) for any reason other than illness, without being liable to IOC sanctions. Those sanctions include being barred from the next Olympics.
"If the Soviets withdrew," Spurney said, "they would be subject to those sanctions and might not be able to participate in their own games.
"The bottom line is they'll be there," he said.
But there is another reason that the Soviets are not anxious to play the role of the spoilers. Kane says, "There's a good chance they'll retailate by not coming to Los Angeles (in 1984). But they won't do it before we do. They want to make us look bad by coming to our Games and saying we came even though you won't come to ours'."