In one corner stands the U.S. Olympic Committee -- trustee of American amateur sport, preserver of the Olympic movement and bearer of traditional, conservative values toward international athletics. In the other corner stands Ted Turner -- symbol of big business and commercialization and, most important, manipulator of the most powerful force in sport today, television.
Between the two, there is emerging a bitter power struggle over the control of amateur athletics in this country.
Turner's Goodwill Games -- originally envisioned as a U.S.-Soviet meeting but now set as a 50-nation, 3,500-athlete spectacle -- may become the most significant international competition outside of the Olympics. It is scheduled for July 5-20 in Moscow, ending only days before the USOC-sanctioned U.S. Olympic Festival, July 25-Aug. 3 in Houston.
"The Goodwill Games has simply become a media hype," said USOC President Robert Helmick.
"The Olympic Festival is basically a high school tournament," Robert Wussler, executive vice president of Turner Broadcasting System, said in response.
Beyond the verbal volleying, the creation of the Goodwill Games, slated to be held every four years, has raised serious questions: Should commercial interests run and organize athletic competitions and dictate what money goes where to ensure athletes' appearances? In what manner have the sports been selected and who decides which nations will be represented? What effect on future funding and sponsorships will the games have on the annual U.S. Olympic Festival?
Turner bypassed the USOC and went directly to the Soviets. He used The Athletics Congress, the governing body for track and field in the United States, as the prime organizer because of Executive Director Ollan Cassell's longstanding relationship with the Soviets. TAC is receiving $6 million in fees and transportation costs, and the money will be divided among the 18 participating U.S. federations.
"Events themselves should be controlled and run by amateur bodies, not by the sponsor," Helmick said. "I am personally very much against the tendency of commercial organizers saying, 'Let's run the event.' Let's go off in the future and say the Olympics are owned by the network. All the events might be held in the morning, if that suited them . You wouldn't have field hockey or other sports they had no interest in."
Wussler believes the USOC's attitude is "pure and simple jealousy. The USOC is a fine organization that lends support to the Olympic movement. Beyond that, they have no authority. They've seen that we can do this with TAC. They're jealous.
"Hey, Adidas has more to say on the Olympics than you and I can ever imagine. Those are the people who are picking up the bill," Wussler said. "What's the difference between what we're doing and the fact that they're going out and getting McDonald's to build a training center? None whatsoever."
U.S. track and field competitors who qualify for the Goodwill Games will receive $3,000 each, which will go into the athlete's trust fund. "You've got to make it practical for people to get over there," Wussler said. But USOC officials say there is a difference between the United States subsidizing athletes' training and expenses and Turner paying TAC money to distribute to the participants.
"When we subsidize," said Jack Kelly, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Festival, "it's like going to camp. The training center is nice, but it's really spartan. It's not like giving them cash where they can spend it as they want to. There is a difference. There are no controls on how much money is given under Turner's supervision . Today, it's $5,000. The next step is $10,000. With us, it's a very egalitarian situation. The No. 1 athlete and the No. 100 athlete get the same treatment. Turner doesn't say that. He'll spend more for the top guy."
"There's nothing wrong with people paying athletes to come to an event," Helmick said, "but it's not amateur sport anymore to employ Edwin Moses. It would be a mistake, a disaster, for us to go into that direction. That's like our professional leagues."
Some skepticism exists, too, about the amount each athlete would be given. "Am I supposed to believe that an Edwin Moses and a race-walker both are going to get $3,000 to appear?" said a federation executive director who asked not to be named. "Moses is worth a lot more to the organizers than the next guy. I'd make sure he was there if I were Ted Turner."
"I have no knowledge of that paying certain athletes more money ," Wussler said.
USOC officials also have complained about which sports will be excluded from the Goodwill Games.
"Only 18 of 38 of our national governing bodies have been invited to participate," said George Miller, USOC secretary general. "Obviously, that's determined by what's salable on TV."
Among the sports that won't be represented in Moscow are archery, canoeing, fencing, field hockey and shooting.
Wussler said, "We have some sports included in the 18 that are not television sports." He said there will be "23 or so" sports at the 1990 Games.
USOC officials also have criticized Turner's Games for catering to the Soviets. "I don't know what's the criteria for inviting some countries and not inviting others," said Miller.
The list of nations competing will not be released until three weeks before the Games, according to TBS' David Raith, who said the Soviets are extending invitations to the various individual federations worldwide, and that in 1990, when the Games are scheduled to be in the United States, American federations will act in the same role.
Besides the philosophical disagreements with Turner's approach and the wariness of the Soviets, the USOC primarily may be attacking the Goodwill Games because they threaten its authority over amateur sports and endanger its U.S. Olympic Festival. Although Kelly said that many athletes will participate in both competitions and that the Games will not hurt the festival's ticket sales, the Games could affect the festival's long-term future. The festival will be televised by ESPN this year.
"They're afraid of sponsors," Cava said. "It's kind of like the NFL getting uptight about the USFL."
In 1990, when the Goodwill Games will come to a U.S. city, "we could be fighting for time on the schedule and fighting for dollars. We don't think that's a healthy situation," Helmick said. "There's no need or place for another major multisport competition in the U.S. in 1990."
According to Wussler, the Goodwill Games will cost at least $85 million to stage, with Turner's cost at $31 million and two Soviet partners -- the national sports ministry and the state committee for television and radio -- each liable for $27 million.
"Turner's people will try to raise that money principally in the U.S.," Miller said. "That $80 million is $80 million that will not be available to the USOC . . . In 1990, we may have trouble getting a city of consequence to bid for the Olympic Festival if the Games are held in this country."
While the Goodwill Games stand to benefit U.S. track and field, gymnastics, boxing and volleyball, among other sports, many USOC officials privately are hoping Turner's experiment is a gigantic flop.
The Games will be telecast by WTBS, Turner's superstation, and will also be shown on independent commercial stations nationwide. Nine of the top 10 markets will carry the Games, including WFTY-TV-50 in the Washington area. But until now, Turner has found advertisers reluctant. Pepsi was the first large company to sign on, paying $10 million as the official soft drink of the 1986 and 1990 Games and as the sole sponsor of the gymnastics competition.
But even after Turner's sales people changed their sales approach, offering less expensive, nonexclusive deals, only Stroh's, Mars candy bars and NAPA auto parts have joined as sponsors. Advertising rates for the Games range from a high of $58,000 per 30 seconds for a prime-time spot over the entire syndicate of independent stations to a low of $4,000 per 30 seconds for a late-night spot on WTBS only. By comparison, ABC's prime-time price for the 1984 Winter Olympics was $250,000 per 30 seconds.
Wussler had estimated potential advertising revenue could reach $100 million, which would yield a modest profit split equally among the two Sovet partners and Turner.
"I still think we have a shot at breaking even," said Jim Trahey, TBS' vice president for sports sales.
"If Turner falls on his face," said NBC spokesman Alan Baker, "it's going to be a long time before anyone tries again."
"There will be other Ted Turners popping up," said the festival's Kelly. "There will be other guys who say, 'I have an idea to carve out the water sports,' for instance. But very few have Ted's ability to back it up with real cash. It appears he's willing to take a loss this first year."
Wussler said that if the USOC looks past the "petty" concerns of competing international sports groups, it would see the Goodwill Games' better side. "We think the Games will help the Olympics and help NBC a lot," he said. "There are new faces we'll introduce."
But Helmick is resolute in his opposition: "Anytime a team walks into a stadium behind a U.S. flag, people realize it represents the United States, and we the USOC should be the ones orchestrating that involvement."