Though they may seem to be quite unrelated, two of the major stories in this issue have a common background. One is a report on Africa—27 pages of text and photographs. The other is an essay on sport by the celebrated Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
This is an article from the Dec. 19, 1966 issue
Work on the African story began nearly a year ago and proved fraught with as many uncertainties as Africa itself. An extensive search in the U.S. suggested that available material was 1) limited and 2) incorrect. Officials at some African embassies glowingly described stadiums that rivaled Shea, but news photographs suggested they looked more like Ebbets Field—after demolition. On the other hand, the names of internationally famous African runners were drawing blank stares from diplomatic personnel geared to think in other channels.
So, in April, Senior Editor Ray Cave took a five-week tour of central Africa to make on-the-spot assessments, and reported back that five countries seemed to offer the greatest potential for the story we had in mind.
Before the complex blending of athletic timetables, airline schedules and weather probabilities could be resolved, a normal African problem arose: coups. The head of the Nigerian government was assassinated and the king of Buganda just did escape before his Kampala palace was leveled by artillery, so Nigeria and Uganda were scratched from the list. Finally Photographers Jay Maisel and Marvin Newman were dispatched to Kenya, Senegal and Ghana—Newman on a morning's notice when a track meet was suddenly rescheduled. Martin Kane followed, to write the story that begins on page 78.
Meanwhile Cave had encountered in Africa a man he had been trying to get in touch with for a long time, Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In A Precocious Autobiography—a work which caused him serious difficulty with Russian officialdom—Yevtushenko had revealed himself to be a sportsman. "In general," he wrote, "sport is a cleaner business than literature. There are times when I am very sorry that I did not become a football player. I very nearly did." Having read that, Cave—who last year persuaded John Steinbeck to put down his views of sport—set out to capture Yevtushenko.
The poet had said he much admired Steinbeck as a writer. When he learned that Yevtushenko would be in Dakar at the same time as he would, Cave packed a copy of the magazine with Steinbeck's story (SI, Dec. 20, 1965) and eventually tracked down the elusive Russian in the dining room of a not-very-grand Dakar hotel. The poet was dressed in a white tennis sweater, and his eyes were alive with enthusiasm as he explained in understandable English—"I learn it in two days. Good, uh?"—that he had spent the morning water skiing. Would he write an essay on sport? He thought not. "John Steinbeck did." The Steinbeck was produced. "Good writer," said Yevtushenko. "He is my friend. I cooked a meal for him once when he stayed with us in Moscow. So did my wife. 'Which was better?' I asked him. 'They are both better than any I have ever eaten,' John said. He is a very wise man. But not truthful. Mine was better."
But about the essay? "Yes," said Yevtushenko. "I will do it. I will send it to you. We shake on it." So there was a handshake in Dakar, and Cave and Yevtushenko went out to find the poet "a blue shirt that will match my famous blue eyes, yes?" Thus Africa presented us with an unexpected bonus for this year-end issue, a story that sets forth many feelings about sport which we share.
Let me now wish you a happy holiday season and leave you with an apt quote that may tell you a little more about Mr. Yevtushenko. He is a man with a fervent love for his own country, but in A Precocious Autobiography he wrote: "I despise nationalism. For me the world contains only two nations; the nation of good people and the nation of bad people. I am a nationalist of the nation of good people."
We believe, with Yevtushenko, that sportsmen of all nationalities belong to the nation of good people.