Excuse me, Mr. President, but your latest plan for an alternative Olympics -- or whatever you choose to call it -- is a bad one.
The gesture itself, trying to find a way for athletes denied participation in the Moscow Games to salvage the greatest glory possible, is splendid. But it seems doomed for several reasons, the foremost being that it erodes the very reason for an American boycott.
Why did the boycott notion generate such enthusiasm? Because it was said to be the most effective way other than war to get the Soviets to back out of Afghanistan. The scenario was this:
Led by the U.S., the free-world nations form an athletic alliance that would reduce the Olympics to little more than a duel meet between the Soviets and East Germany. This power play would force one of two actions: withdrawal from Afghanistan by the Soviets or withdrawal from Moscow by the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC even admitted in Lake Placid that it would be forced to reconsider moving, postponing or canceling the Games if a substantial number of nations avoided Moscow. All along, the idea had been to hammer the Soviets, gang as many sporting powers together as possible against them.
Carter's latest proposal is a noodle.
This week the administration talked of alternative games in August, somewhere other than in the U.S. and "open to everyone." That included the Soviets.
According to UPI, a top-level White House official said athletes from other countries could compete in both the Moscow Games and the alternative ones.
Which gives all the fence-straddling countries exactly what they cover: the chance to make no moral committment at all.The U.S. vs. the Soviets? Not at all. We'll simply attend both parties, the Games and the game.
This can only be a victory for Moscow, for the roster of nations surely will swell. Instead of perhaps dozens of nations absent during the opening-ceremony parade there well might be just a few. The United States? Oh, the propagandists could insist, the U.S. simply is in a snit. Not to be concerned. Besides, we do have 95 percent of the rest of the sporting world.
What has the sacrifice of the U.S. athletes proven under such circumstances?
Nobody much cared that the track and field competition at the Montreal Games was severely tainted by the absence of the black African nations. Alberto Juantorena's gold medal for 800 meters does not include an asterisk that leads to tiny type on the back that says: "Mike Boit could not compete."
Still, even if the Americans are left to twist slowly in the Olympic wind, our athletes' sacrifice could be made to seem heroic without some semi-Olympics that might in fact be an embarrassment to them.
The boycott was blatantly political. The Moscow Games should be a time for blatant U.S. nationalism, a festival for our athletes and our friends who also gave up a dream for an ideal. It should coincide, with the Games, with medals for everyone. And presidential hugs.
Any alternative will not have as much impact.
Let's consider some basic Olympic facts. Only a few countries give the Games credibility as unique sport. Three of them are the United States, the Soviet Union and East Germany. Without the Soviets and East Germans, an alternative Olympics would be a bad Olympic alternative.
What would be attractive competition without the Soviets and their Eastern European and Cuban pals? What would compel the sort of television contract that would help defray the enormous cost? What would cause tickets to be priced at $67.20 per event, as some in the Winter Games were?
Not athletics. Not basketball. Not boxing. Not canoeing. Not fencing. Not gymnastics. Not modern pentathlon. Not rowing. Not soccer.Not team handball. Not swimming. Not water polo. Not weightlifting. Not wrestling.
Of the 21 Summer Olympic sports, all but perhaps archery, diving, cycling, judo, field hockey and equestrian hardly could be called world-class competition without the Communists.
This has been a strong argument against the Games themselves for years. They have become so political they cannot even put together a decent track meet.
Also, many U.S. track and field athletes would be forced to make a double sacrifice to compete in an alternative Olympics in late August. These are the ones who have made nice money under the table in European meets already scheduled.
And the development of U.S. basketball players toward lucrative pro careers would be greatly hindered by their having to remain amateurs at least another month. How much sacrifice can they reasonably be asked to offer to play teams they could whip with their sneakers knotted together?
Jimmy, this alternative-Olympics notion is tough to justify in any way other than to help bolster your campaign, to have you seen on television wishing javelin throwers and boxers well as they leave to do battle against assorted cream puffs of the Western world.
These games, we are told, will be in foreign countries. For some reason, competition inspired by politics must be held elsewhere to keep it from smacking of politics.
Who will pay for these games?
Can we impose on a country and ask it to pay for our pleasure, to underwrite the millions necessary for such games?
Possibly, businesses with a winter glow from Lake Placid will be the financial angels. A government that will not spring for facilities to allow amateur athletes a chance to compete and mature should not spend lavishly for relatively meaningless games.
But maybe everyone in the world will attend the U.S. alternative. The Soviets. The East Germans. The Romanians. Every healthy world-class athlete.
This would make our games more important than their Games.
Would the international athletic federations give sanction to such competition?
The bottom line here, it seems, is that there is no happy alternative for an Olympic experience, no reality that will replace shattered dreams. If we are going to ask our athletes to sacrifice, Jimmy, give that sacrifice meaning. Be prepared to sacrifice a bit yourself.
"Michael, I think we're going to have to change the Olympic rules," Lord Killanin recently told sports consultant Mike Harrigan, who as executive director of the President's Commission on Olympic Sports from 1975 to 1977 helped reshape much of American amateur sport.
"I think," the IOC president continued, "we're going to have to hold the Olympic Games in nonelection years."