Amid the ornate, the prerevolutionary splendor of the famed Bolshoi Theater, the critical 83rd session of the International Olympic Committee was formally opened tonight by a high-ranking Soviet government official.
Outgoing IOC President Lord Killanin of Ireland made an earnest, sometimes eloquent, but entirely made an earnest, sometimes eloquent, but entirely predictable appeal for 19th century sporting ideals to be reaffirmed in response to the 20th century political realities that threaten to rip apart the Olympic movement and further polarize international sport along ideological lines.
The notion that the modern Olympics can glorify sport and transcend politics was buffeted again today, though, with the flare-up of controversy over broadcast freedom from Moscow. Soviet broadcast authorities refused Sunday to transmit a piece produced by the West German television network ARD because they objected to its political content.
As this latest hassle swirled, about 75 of the 86 members of the IOC attended tonight's speech-making and concert at the Bolshoi, with its six-tiered boxes of red velvet, gold leaf, and elaborate crystal chandeliers.
They will take part in important meetings scheduled to start Tuesday and conclude Friday, the day before the opening ceremonies for the controversial Games of the 22nd Olympiad at Moscow's Lenin Central Stadium.
The agenda includes election of a new president, vice president and executive board to lead the IOC in the turbulent years ahead, preliminary consideration of sites for the 1988 Winter and Summer Olympics, and thorny questions arising from the widespread political opposition to the Moscow Games.
The IOC membership may be asked to vote on reprisals against approximately 50 national Olympic committees that are boycotting the Games because of Soviet miliatry agression in Afghanistan. Among the absentees are the United States, West Germany, Canada, Japan and China. Some Eastern Bloc members would like to see sanctions imposed against them, including possible stripping of the 1984 Summer Games form Los Angeles.
Twenty of the 80 nations that will participate in the boycott-diminished Games have asked to have traditional Olympic protocol altered to allow protests against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. They want to substitute Olympic symbols for their national flags and anthems during ceremonies. Ten nations want to shun the opening parade and other ceremonies altogether.
Some IOC members strongly oppose any changes in protocol, but Kilanin made his position clear when he said: "I have always held the view that there has been to much chauvinism, flag waving, and anthem playing at the games. I have been in a minority on this, but I believe recent events may prove a considerable justification of this point of view."
Killanin referred to the boycott, which has caused deep fissures in the international sports community, only obliquely, but it was at the heart of his address.
"The reverberations, both nationally and internationally, on the Olympic movement and the Games, an also all nonprofessional international sport, will be felt for some years to come," the 66-year-old Irish peer warned, "the more so if politicians continue to make use of sport for their own ends."
He reiterated that the Summer Games of 1980 and 1984 were awarded to Moscow and Los Angeles, respectively because they had the facilities and organizational wherewithal to stage them, plus a solid sports tradition, and not "in approbation of the political philosophies" of the host countries.
Killanin, who has been clearly disillusioned and exhausted by what he calls "the traumatic events of the past six months," emphasized that he will not be a candidate for reelection, even for an interim term. "I believe that eight years is the correct term for any president, and after that, a fresh approach is best," he said.
This was, by his own description, a "poignant occasion" for Killanin, who is stepping down after a stormy tenure during which politics frequently overshadowed sports at the Olympics.
He was elected just before the massacre of Israelis by terrorists at the Munich Games, and presided over the IOC through the boycott of the 1976 Montreal Games by 26 black African nations, a long-running dispute over the two Chinas" question, and the current boycott by nations that consider Moscow an unsuitable site for a festival dedicated to peace and understanding. m
Killanin underscored his alarm over political intrusions when he spoke of next year's scheduled Olympic Congress in Baden-Baden, West Germany, where the IOC, its 146 affiliated national Olympic committees, and the 26 international federations which govern the Olympic sports will meet to confront urgent problems.
"At one time I thought the subjects for discussion might be restricted to such perennial questions as eligibility, the size of the games, and the serious and worrying developments in the creation of the artificial person through the use of drugs and anabolic steroids," he said. "Unfortunately, to these has now been added an ever-increasing threat of political interference in sport throughout the world."
He left on doubt where he thinks the greatest danger lies. "Although the media have greatly contributed to the spread and popularity of the Olympic Games, the extensive coverage given has frequently been seized upon as a platform the use the Games for political demonstrations," he said.
Killanin was indirectly but pointedly critical of the Carter administration's tactics in calling for an orchestrating the current boycott.
Referring to then-Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance's highly political speech opening the IOC meetings before the winter Olympics last February, which outlined the U.S. government's reasons for asking to have the Summer Games moved from Moscow, postponed or canceled, Killanin said: "I regret that political overtones were introduced at the opening of the 82nd session in Lake Placid . . . this, I believe, was counterproductive."
The current session, which Killanin said ranked with the Lake Placid meetings as the two most vital in the 86-year history of the IOC, was officially opened by Vassili Kuznetsov, first vice president of the Soviet Presidium, who also hosted a luncheon today for IOC members and international sports officials at the Kremlin.
United Vance, Kuznetsov avoided a political theme that was sure to rankle the IOC membership, which includes a number of patricians, quixotic idealists, and 19th Century dreamers who still cling to the notion of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, that sport and politics can and should be kept separate.
Kuznetsov was representing Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, who is expected to declare the Games open on Saturday afternoon and then return to his summer retreat on the Black Sea. He welcomed the IOC members, expressed the pride of the Soviet people in hosting the Moscow Games, and said that preparations "were made in strict conformity with the rules of the Olympic charter."
The only thinly veiled Soviet barb at the U.S. and other boycotting countries came in a speech by Sergei Pavlov, president of the Soviet Olympic Committee, who said: "Today as never before, all of us feel that there are forces in the world which seek to destroy the Olympic movement, to prevent the holding of the Olympic Games -- that unique festival of youth, physical perfection, and fraternal contacts between people from all continents."
Soviet officials and media in recent months -- ostensibly in defense of the noble Olympic ideals against those "forces" that would sek to destroy them -- have sounded like Characters from "The Empire strikes Back," Darth Vaders in Olympic blazers, breathing heavily and preparing for future, cosmic ideological clashes.
The setting for tonight's rhetoric was decidedly more reactionary than futuristic. The Bolsholi, reconstructed in 1857, is a magnificent concert hall, but hardly apolitical. Its vast stage curtain, an elaborate tapestry of gold and red, features Soviet national symbols and two portraits of Vladimir I. Lenin father of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, who made his last public speech from this same stage on Nov. 20, 1922.
Between musical pieces ranging from Shostakovich's "Festive Overture" to the Soviet national anthem to Vivaldi's "Olympians" -- performed by the Bolshoi's 100-piece concert orchestra, plus a full choir and additional 20-piece string ensemble -- came the speeches decrying political intrusions in sport.
Perhaps the IOC has not realized that it is not 1922 anymore.