Because of the United States-led boycott and lack of funds, athletes or interest, no more than 82 nations will participate in the Moscow Olympics, highly authoritative sources disclosed today. It would be the fewest teams since the Melbourne Games of 1956.
The sources said that although 86 of 148 nations with national Olympic committees formally had accepted invitations to Moscow, four and possibly five small countries since have decided "for non-political reasons" not to come.
But, the sources said, the measure of the Games' success will be measured by the number of world records set here. On this score, it is suggested, the Soviet Union's organizers stand a reasonable chance of matching the Montreal Games in the glamor events of track of field and swimming.
Twenty-five world marks were set at Montreal in those sports, 17 in men's and women's swimming. A number of those marks since have been broken, but the level of competition at the Montreal Olympics, itself marred by a partial boycott, is what the Soviets are aiming at.
The boycott has destroyed competition in equestrian and field hockey and cut sharply into yachting. The absence of the boycotting Americans, West Germans, Canadians and Japanese will be felt heaviest in the traditional sports of running, jumping, throwing and swimming. However, strong Soviet and East European teams, especially in swimming, distance running, weight lifting and gymnastics, may be sufficient to push peformers to records.
Knowledgeable international sports observers think the Moscow Olympics may see eight to 10 world records set in track, field and swimming. "If that happens," one Olympic source asserted, "then they will be able to say they have had a significant Olympiad."
It also was learned today that the Soviets some months ago strongly urged the International Olympic COMMITTEE (IOC) to cut U.S. print and photo journalist quotas by 90 percent in retaliation for the U.S. boycott efforts. Instead of 242 "special" correspondents, the Soviets wanted 24. The IOC set the final number, excluding television and wire services crews, at 121.
But the Soviets so far have denied accreditation to an estimated 60 special correspondents and photographers. The list is under review by the Russians and senior IOC officials. One of three Washington Post correspondents is so far unable to get accreditation.
There is a quixotic strain running through these cuts. No photographer has yet been accredited of a Newsweek team that planned special photo coverage of the Games. And one New York Times sportswriter has been denied accreditation and, therefore, a visa to enter the country, even though he already has special accrediation to cover the IOC meeting that will precede the Games, which open July 19 and Close Aug. 3.
Participation in the Olympics has varied over the years since 1956, when 67 countries sent teams to Melbourne. At subsequent Olympics, the figures were: Rome, 84; Tokyo, 94; Mexico City, 113; Munich, 122, and Montreal 88.