No matter what happens with the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, one thing is certain: The notion that sports and politics do not mix is dead.
President Carter, wielding a five-ring stick, put that ideal to rest forever.
And the athletes who have been used to calling their own shots now are brooding more and training less. However, they would be wise to accept the fact that, in the future, politics will become more infused into sports.
Four years ago when Tanzania boycotted the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Filbert Bayi, the great runner, said, "If a decision is right for a country, then it is also right for that country's athletes." Right out of a Carter speech, wouldn't you say?
I'll never forget the locker room scene at the French Open tennis tournament in 1968 after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. Milan Holicek, a Czech tennis player, was in tears as he verbally castigated Alex Metreveli, the top-ranked Russian. Metreveli could only say, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," over and over, while Holicek vowed revenge. I, too, was in tears just listening to the passion in his voice: We all secretly wished Holicek well in his personal vendetta.
While Holicek and Metreveli treated political incursion into sports as " business as usual," vastly different scenarios loom if the United States succeeds in its Olympic boycott. For Tanzania or Zambia, boycott is one thing; but for the United States to adopt this practice now is to retroactively legitimize all previous boycotts by smaller nations and virtually assure formation of "sports cartels" in the future.
Even Muhammad Ali was taken aback at the hostile questioning he experienced during his recent government-sponsored tour of Africa.
Being one of the best-known persons on earth, Ali was surprised to find that while everyone in the street wanted to shake his hand, the African journalists wanted to ask him tough, incisive questions about U.S. involvement in South Africa. It had to be even more disconcerting to realize that, for the first time in his professional life, a head of state, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, refused to see him. I wonder how black America viewed this snub.
Bayi recalls that in 1976, "The United States had laughed and said that the Africans are mixing sports with politics." The key word in this quote is "laughed." It points out why there is so much reluctance among nations to back President Carter's call for a boycott.
The countries that go down to the wire with us probably are doing more because of our friendship than because they are angry at the Soviet Union.
To set the Feb. 20 deadline was premature, considering the United States Olympic Committee has until May to accept or decline its invitation from the International Olympic Committee to participate.
In fact, our reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has not been very balanced. In my view, too much emphasis has been placed on the boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
President Carter struck out at the most convenient and tangible whipping boy: the Olympics. What other measures has he taken? What else does he have in mind?
If the athletes are pouting at missing their "chance of a lifetime," who can blame them?
Now that the die seems to be cast, athletes who are engaged in international sports would do well to heed the hard lessons learned by our Olympic team, Ali and Holicek. Like farmers checking their almanac to decide when to plant, we, too, had better start reading newspapers to find out when and if to train.
Let's rid ourselves once and for all of the false notion that sports and politics are separate.