Olympics officials are expected to receive recommendations this week for landmark changes in their rules so that professional tennis players like Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova and soccer players like Ricky Davis could compete in future Olympic games.
Although scheduled only as a demonstration sport in the 1984 Games here, tennis will return as a full-fledged event at the 1988 Games in Seoul for the first time since 1924. The executive board of the International Olympic Committee, opening a four-day meeting here Tuesday, will be handed a plan by the International Tennis Federation to open the competition to the game's top stars, an IOC official said.
He said the board also will hear a plan to open soccer competition to some professionals, although still excluding top European and Latin American stars who have competed in the World Cup.
Both proposals are expected to be opposed by IOC officials wedded to the Games' amateur tradition and by East European soccer officials determined to maintain dominance of the event at the Olympics. The official said he expected no decisions would be made on including professionals until the March meeting of an IOC session in New Delhi.
Much of the discussion among delegates has focused on the issue of professionalism, dramatized today by the appearance of the lawyer of wide receiver Renaldo Nehemiah of the San Francisco 49ers.
Nehemiah's lawyer argued at a hearing here today that although he is a professional football player, he ought to be able to compete as an amateur in the 110-meter hurdles, in which he holds the world record. No decision on Nehemiah's status is expected before the March meeting.
At the opening of the board meeting Tuesday, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch is scheduled to return 1912 decathalon and pentathlon gold medals to the family of Jim Thorpe. His medals were taken away after the Games because he had played semiprofessional baseball.
At an International Tennis Federation meeting in Mexico four months ago, recommendations were drafted for an Olympics tournament open to all players in 1988. Entrants would establish eligibility by their performances at the Davis Cup, the Federation Cup and the men's and women's Grand Prix circuits.
Olympic officials have indicated interest in relaxing some rules against professionals, but world-class tennis players have become so wealthy their inclusion may be difficult to justify. The same considerations, further complicated by European soccer politics, have produced a compromise recommendation from FIFA, the international soccer association, to open up soccer competition here next year.
Eastern European players, many employed by the governments in paper jobs that make them professionals in all but name, have dominated Olympic soccer competition. The federation's plan would allow professionals to compete on their national team if they had not played on a World Cup and were not contracted to endorse sportswear products.
A spokesman for the North American Soccer League said today he understood the ban on World Cup competitors in the proposed new rules applied only to players from Europe and Latin America, where almost all the world's top stars outside the Soviet bloc live. American-born stars like Davis of the Cosmos could compete in the Olympics under the federation plan, the spokesman said.
The executive board is expected to make few decisions at its meeting here. Delegates from several countries toured facilities for the 1984 games over the weekend, and the board will hear reports from the Los Angeles organizing committee and the committee for the 1984 winter games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.