The Federal Government of the United States, unlike the dictatorships of modern times, seldom concerns itself with the conduct of international sport except to extend an occasional good wish or to ease the issuance of a visa. But last week two separate branches of the Government were boiling in indignation at the decision of the International Olympic Committee to withdraw the laurels of its approval from Free China and place them instead on the brow of Communist China (SI, June 8).
The news reached Capitol Hill just as the House of Representatives was considering a bill appropriating some $400,000 for federal support of the 1960 Winter Games. The bill was promptly amended to read: "Funds shall not be available for the support of any international game or event in which participation is denied any of the free countries of the world."
In Foggy Bottom, after trying in vain to get some sort of detailed story of the IOC's Munich Conference decision from the U.S. consulate in Munich, the State Department issued a formal statement. It expressed to the world U.S. trust "that the public and all sports organizations both here and abroad will recognize the Communist threats for what they are and will insist on restoring both the athletes of the Republic of China and the Olympic principles to their deserved positions."
In Lausanne, Switzerland, meanwhile, the venerable president of the IOC, Avery Brundage of Chicago, agreed to meet the press. He countered all criticism of his committee's action with the retort that everything had been misconstrued. "The Olympic Committee," he insisted, "recognizes only sports organizations and not governments. It has no intention of deviating from its basic policy of nondiscrimination, either religious, racial or political."
It should, we think, be obvious to Avery Brundage, as to everyone else in the world, that the two touchiest political problems plaguing today's life are those involving the great dichotomies of Free and Red China, of Free and Red Germany. The schizoid, unresolved existence of these two split nations reflects one of the global ailments of mankind. Their claims and counterclaims to sovereignty and recognition are the constant concern of the ablest statesmen of two worlds. Their potentiality for serious trouble is a continuing threat to the future of civilization itself.
It may be that Brundage's committee is very wise and that the gentlemen meeting in Geneva as the top diplomatic spokesmen of their several countries are very stupid. It must be so, for these men have been locked for weeks in inconclusive debate over but one single aspect of just one of the problems of German sovereignty. Yet in a brief meeting at Munich, almost without debate, the Olympic Committee settled in a single moment the far wider question of the sovereignty of the two Chinas. In simple and unvarnished terms, it declared to the world that the Peking Communists represent China and that Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists are merely refugees.
How could such a decision be reached so easily? It was, said one of the few committeemen who could be persuaded to talk, a Frenchman, a simple matter of logic. "It just made no sense," he said, "to go on calling Formosa 'China' when it can't control the sports activities of 'democratic' China." Possibly not, M. Committeeman, but does it make sense to you to call Peking China when it can't control the sports activities of the Republic of China? We hope not. What really makes no sense whatever is for you and Mr. Brundage and the International Olympic Committee to appoint yourselves the final arbiters of governmental nomenclature in the troubled world of 1959 (or 1960) where, like it or not, the answer to Juliet's question about what's in a name can be of vital concern to the whole world.
The IOC can be superior to global politics only if it holds aloof from the squabbles that don't concern it, as Jesse Owens held aloof from the arguments over Aryan mastery at the Berlin Games of 1932. It was not Owens' function to argue with Nazis, only to show them. It is not the function of the Olympic Committee now to decide what government represents whom or what the government chooses to call itself.
Brundage and his IOC fellows can and should say to both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung, "Gentlemen, your athletes, by whatever name you choose to call them, are welcome in our games, provided they conduct themselves as sportsmen. This is not a political arena, however, and anyone who plans to make it one had better stay home." In such a stand, the Olympians might even set an example for the politicians. As it is, they have proved themselves only foolish and inept on a field where they should not be playing at all.
It is the function of sport to bring out the best in men. It is the function of the Olympic Games to bring out the best in sport. "The moment politics are permitted in Olympic affairs," Avery Brundage himself has said, "the Games are finished."
We can only hope and pray that Mr. Brundage is as poor a soothsayer as he is a diplomat, for politics have entered Olympic affairs with a vengeance at the Olympians' own invitation. We should not like to think that the Games are finished.