The thunder had a familiar sound, but this time there was an extra rumble of exasperation—and righteous rage—in it, which made it seem more menacing than similar storms of the past. Once more it was the old mountain king, Avery Brundage, long the noble and stubborn defender of amateurism in its most idealistic form, hurling lightning bolts at his favorite target, the corruption and hypocrisy rampant in world class skiing. And once more it was the rather slippery policies of the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) toward profit and commercialism that was the cause of Avery's wrath. Ultimately, once more it seemed possible that the major victim of all the violent weather could well be the 1972 Olympic Winter Games.
Some of the same doomful climate had prevailed in 1968 before Grenoble, when Brundage was convinced (and quite rightly) that most ski racers—both Alpine and Nordic—were walking commercials being paid for using equipment garishly labeled with the name of the manufacturer. He threatened them, but his lightning did not strike (although he flatly refused to present any medals to winners of the Alpine competitions). But now Avery Brundage is on the brink of retirement as president of the International Olympic Committee after 20 years and—with the Sapporo Olympics barely three weeks off—he seems determined to make his last Winter Games as pure as the driven snow on which the Japanese hope they will be held.
Said Brundage last week: "If we confine the skiers allowed to compete in the Olympics to those who can meet the eligibility requirements of the IOC, then all of the prominent skiers of the world—both Alpine and Nordic—must be disqualified. We have taken the stand, and made it perfectly clear in IOC Rule 26, that anyone whose name or photograph has been used in an advertisement for ski equipment is automatically an agent of the manufacturer. If we were to permit such competitors in the Olympic Games, we would be sponsoring a contest between manufacturers' agents and not between individuals, as the Olympic ideal demands. Officials of the FIS have kept telling us that they are trying to eliminate commercialism in skiing, but they are not doing that at all. On the contrary: only last month in their races at Sestriere, they were actually selling space on the number bibs worn by their skiers—selling space to Martini, a vermouth company. This is outrageous.
"The trademarks on skis are bigger than ever. The FIS people admit that none of their best skiers can in any way meet Olympic qualifications, but they try to tell us, 'Well, let's start over then, let's start with a clean slate and forget what has gone before.' And I have told them that we must enforce our rules, that they are not clean now and that next year—the moment I've retired—they'll be back with their same dirty hands, operating in the same corrupt way they are now. Skiing is a disaster area. It is just an outrage. The Japanese and the American teams have been quite careful with their skiers, and most of them will probably be eligible. Most others will not. The Austrian and the French ski teams are nothing more than branches of the tourist industry. All of them must be disqualified."
Familiar though the Brundage diatribe may seem, there is one significant difference between this year's situation and those of the past: now he has absolute documentation for disqualification in a carefully collected stack of ski equipment ads that carry the names or faces of nearly all the finest racers in the world.
Thus, as even FIS Vice-President Dr. Amos (Bud) Little of Helena, Mont. must confess: "Avery has us dead to rights. If he wants to blow the whistle, he can do it and we have no recourse. He has the proof right there in that little pile of clippings."
Nonetheless, the general reaction to this newest Brundage outburst has been one of either scorn or boredom. From Switzerland, FIS President Marc Hodler snapped: "Avery refuses to consider facts." The secretary of the FIS, Sigge Bergman of Sweden, said, "I'm taking his threats very calmly. His try at stopping us is an incredibly insolent move against, among others, the Japanese, who have invested millions in preparations." In France one official at the Ministry of Sport said: "If the amateur rules were strictly applied to every sport, the only real amateur would be Princess Anne."
Perhaps. And Brundage is indeed blithely ignoring all competitors from the Iron Curtain countries because he says he has no "documentation" to prove that they are not amateurs, even though it is commonly recognized that every Russian, Czech and East German Olympian is fully subsidized—clothed, fed, trained and massaged—with government funds. But last week Brundage refused to open even a small Olympic crack for any other errant competitors to slip through. "I feel sorry for them," he said. "It's the athletes who are being penalized for the wrongs committed by the FIS. But contestants who have broken our rules simply will not be allowed in the Olympics at Sapporo."
Officials of the FIS have been remarkably wishy-washy in either challenging the Olympic regulations or attempting to bring their own rather hazy policies into line. As Bud Little said, "A number of us in the federation have been jostling around for years, trying to get the FIS to take a strong stand on this whole damned amateurism mess. But the majority kept saying, 'Let's wait and see what happens, let's not be in a hurry.' And here we are—what a mess! Of course, Avery will simply kill the Winter Olympics if he carries out all his threats."
What might really happen in Japan? Well, there could be compromises of many colors. However, the peak of the crisis probably will not come until the 11th hour, for nothing specific is likely to occur until the IOC has actually received the applications of individual contestants. These applications will be processed beginning Jan. 24, a mere 10 days before the Games are to begin. "We can't actually disqualify anyone until he has formally applied," says Brundage.
If the IOC does proceed as Brundage insists, then the Sapporo Games would be essentially reduced to a rather cheap contest among a bunch of certified mediocrities in Alpine skiing and to a classy—but almost entirely Communist—crowd in the Nordic events.
Still, there is one possibility that might yet allow the world's finest skiers to compete in Sapporo—no matter how blatantly they have played their roles as "manufacturers' agents." This plan was put forward by Brundage himself: simply do away with all Olympic skiing competition at Sapporo and substitute FIS world championship events. Although the events would be held at facilities built for the Olympics, none of the contestants would be allowed to participate in Olympic ceremonies and, of course, none would be given Olympic medals. "But if we do this," said Brundage, "the officials of the FIS must come to us and admit that it is all their fault that their skiers have become so involved in commercialism. This is the least objectionable solution to a most embarrassing situation."
When this idea was advanced to Little and another FIS vice-president, Bjorn Kjellstrom, last month in Chicago—and later to Hodler in Switzerland—the immediate reaction of all three was quite enthusiastically affirmative. "We thought it sounded just great," said Bud Little. "But then a day or so later Hodler started sounding out some of the Europeans on the matter and, by God, they balked. About half the people he talked to said that they didn't want to turn it into an FIS world championship for one major reason—they would not then get financial support to send their teams to Japan from their national Olympic committees. It was strictly a matter of money! They were afraid the Olympic funds would be cut off if the word got out that it was an FIS competition instead of the Olympics."
As the week ended, Hodler insisted, "We have not withdrawn any skier from Olympic competition in Sapporo and there has been no official discussion between the IOC and FIS about simultaneous world championships and Olympic competitions. We have not been notified officially of anything, so it's FIS business as usual."
And that is where the impasse now lies. The FIS strategy—if one can dignify it with such a term—is to send its national ski teams to Japan on national Olympic committee cash. Once there, each team would submit its member applications to the IOC eligibility committee (a handpicked Brundage group that will certainly make short work of eradicating all suspicious characters). Then the FIS plans to step in at the last minute when the Winter Games ski events have been reduced to a shambles and magnanimously offer to accept Avery Brundage's original plan to hold FIS championships in Japan. "We have told all of our people to qualify their skiers based on FIS eligibility regulations—not the IOC's," said Bud Little. "Frankly, I have all kinds of reservations about doing it this way. But everything is going to have to come to a head in Japan and probably not before."