Despite the boycott that has kept athletes of more than 50 countries away from the controversial Games of the 22nd Olympiad, which begin here next weekend, nearly the full membership of the International Olympic Committee is expected to take part in important meetings this week that could have a far-reaching impact on the future of the Olympic movement.
Of the 86 current members of the IOC, the self-appointed and self-perpetuating body that owns and oversees the Olympic Games, between 75 and 80 -- and unusually high turnout -- are expected to participatre in the potentially stormy meetings.
The IOC's 83rd session will be opened officially by Vasily Kuznetsov, first vice president of the Soviet Presidium, amid lavish ceremonies Moday evening at the Bolshoi Theater.
The working meetings will begin Tuesday morning at the ornate House of Unions, an 18th century mansion, and most of the business on the agenda should be completed by Friday, when outgoing IOC President Lord Killanin of Ireland will hold a pre-Games press conference. The session will not be adjourned officially, however, until the Olympic flame is extinguished during closing ceremonies at Lenin Central Stadium Aug. 3.
The IOC session -- which is scheduled to include election of a successor to Killanin, who is stepping down after eight turbulent years as IOC president -- is certain to be emotional and occasionally bitter because of the deep rifts in international sport that have developed because of the U.S. -- led boycott of the Moscow Games.
Of the 146 national Olumpic committes eligible to send teams, only 80 are doing so, making this the smallest Olympics in terms of participating countries since 1956. Moreover, many countries are sending sharply reduced delegations because of financial limitations, government pressure or the decision by individual atheletes not to take part.
Even though the New Zealand Olumpic Committee, for instance, voted to accept its invitation to the Games, only four of that country's orifinally expected 100 athletes decided to come to Moscow. And even though Italy has sent 166 athletes, to cite another example, the Italian government banned the participation of another 80 who are members of the armed forces.
Some IOC members from the Eastern bloc and Third World are urging that the national Olympic committees of the United States, West Germany, Canada, Japan and other nations that decided to bypass the Moscow Games altogether be punished for their decision. dSome members are expected to press for sanctions against the boycotting nations, including possibly stripping the 1984 Summer Olumpics from Los Angeles. Sanctions are unlikely to be imposed, however.
The attitude of the IOC's crusty membership toward the latest clash between international politics and Olumpic ideals will receive an early test when the session is asked to vote on the request of 20 nations, mostly from Western Europe, to alter the protocol of Saturday's opening ceremonies in the 103,000-seat Lenin Stadium. These countries want to allow muted protests of Soviet aggression in Afghanistan.
Ten nations whose Olympic committees voted to attend the games -- Belgium, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland, Portugal, San Marino and Switzerland -- have asked for permission to have their fore go marching in the traditional inaugural parade. These nations intend to shun the torch-lighting ceremonies at which Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev will declare the Games open.
These countries and 11 others -- Andorra, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Spain, Nigeria, New Zealand, Uganda and Puerto Rico (which has a separate Olympic committee from the U.S.) -- have requested permission to use Olympic flags rather than national flags in all ceremonies, including medal presentations. Eighteen countries have asked to use the Olympic hymn instead of national anthems at ceremonies.
"We think this would be a very heavy offense to the hosts," said an official of the Italian Olympic Committee, reiterating the alternative of many European Olympic officials who voted to attend the Games, despite heavy pressure from the Carter administration to stay away.
"If instead of 140 countries there are maybe 80, and if many of these do not march in the opening ceremonies, the people of the Soviet Union must wonder why. If, when an Italian or French or Danish athlete wins a medal, they do not raise the flag or play the anthem of his country, but instead use Olympic symbols, I am sure the Soviet people will be very surprised and ask why."
"Pravda and Izvestia may devise answers," he continued, referring to two main organs of the government-controlled Soviet media, "but the people will know it is because of Afghanistan. This will be a more effective protest than not coming to the Games, we believe, because it is unusual to have any kind of protest or political comment on Soviet soil."
While some IOC members -- notably, Count Jean de Beaumont of France -- have been striving to de-emphasize nationalism at the Olympics by abloshing use of flags and anthems and having athletes march by sport rather than by country, other IOC members are strongly opposed to abandoning this part of Olympic tradition.
IOC surces indicate that some members will vote to force nations to participate in the opening ceremonies if they want to compete in the Games.
Officials of the Moscow Olympic Organizing Committee have said they will accept the protocol decisions of the IOC, but they clearly are unhappy at the prospect that their carefully-rehearsed and widely televised ceremonies will be diminshed by the absence of certain delegations.
The Soviet media has countered the boycott with blistering rhetorical attacks on the U.S. and like-minded nations, charging that they are trying to destroy the Olympic movement.
The latest counter offensive was an article in today's editions of the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossia, which accused the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and other Western organizations of plotting subversive activities to disrupt the Games.
"A number of U.S. publishing houses are fulfilling orders for subversive anti-Soviet literature which is to be smuggled to Moscow," the newspaper said. "Special firms have been set up to manufacture double-bottom suitcases, underwear with secret pockets, boxes of sweets and cans of coffee stuffed with leaflets and pamphlets on tissue paper."
It is in this atmosphere of mutual distrust between East and West, and polarization of international sports officials along political and ideological lines, that the IOC and a number of international sports federations will meet here.
Among the other important business before the IOC this week is selection of the host cities for the 1988 Winter and Summer Olympics, and decisions -- including the addition of new events, many for women -- that will affect the 1984 Winter Games at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, and the 1984 Summer Games at Los Angeles.
There will also be the election of a new first vice president to succeed Mohammed Mzali, who is resigning because he has become prime minister of Tunisia and no longer has sufficient time to devote to IOC duties.
The odds-on favorite to succeedd Killanin as IOC president for the next eight years is Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, a career diplomat who is presently the Spanish ambassador to the Soviet Union. He has the support of most of the Eastern block and the Spanish-speaking countries, a powerful coalition.
Some IOC members have urged Killanin to remain in office another year, but he has said emphatically that he will not be a candidate for reelection, even for a short term.