A MATTER OF POLITICS
The political pot boiled over last week:
•After Mexico again refused to play South Africa in Davis Cup competition, the U.S. quit the organization because it would not adopt a U.S.-supported resolution to impose sanctions on countries that refuse for political reasons to play a match.
•The Organization of African Unity said its member states would boycott the Montreal Olympics if New Zealand is not banned for letting its national rugby team play in South Africa.
July 11, 1976
•There were reports that the International Olympic Committee had warned Canada it might cancel the Opening Ceremonies, refuse to give out medals and deny Montreal permission to use the word "Olympic" in connection with its Games because the Canadians said they would not let athletes from Taiwan compete as "The Republic of China."
Politics in sport. Deplorable. As Joseph E. Carrico of the U.S. Tennis Association said last week, "We find it intolerable to mix politics with tennis."
Or, presumably, with any other sport.
But the problem is, if we are against politics in sport, can the U.S. withdrawal from the Davis Cup be applauded? Even though it was a protest against political gestures by Mexico, it is in itself a political move. If we approve it, we are approving America's political stance in this sporting controversy, not disapproving the intrusion of politics into sport.
But maybe that's a good idea. Maybe it's time to recognize that politics and sport are inextricably entwined. Maybe we should have recognized this earlier. The African states were angry at New Zealand months ago because of the visit of a South African softball team to that country. They threatened to boycott the Olympics if a scheduled tour of South Africa by New Zealand's national rugby team took place and New Zealand was not subsequently barred from the Olympic Games. John Buckingham, president of the New Zealand Federation of Sport, came to the U.S. this May seeking support from U.S. athletic authorities against the threatened African action. And he got it—from such people as Donald Miller and Julian Roosevelt of the U.S. Olympic Committee and Casey Conrad of the President's Committee on Physical Fitness.
If Miller, Roosevelt and Conrad had political savvy, they might have told Buckingham, "For God's sake, cool it. Slow things down. Back off a little." Instead, while the black African countries were seething with fury over the riots that had taken place around Johannesburg, the New Zealand rugby team blithely popped over to South Africa as though nothing had happened. It's one thing to keep politics out of sport; it's another to be that insensitive about it.
Canada bowed to political pressure from Red China to keep the Taiwanese from competing under the name "The Republic of China." It's easy to criticize the Canadians for this blatantly political move, but Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is a politician. It is more important for Canada to maintain good relations with the government on the Chinese mainland and its 800 million people than with Taiwan and its 16 million.
The IOC reaction to Canada's move is also politics. The IOC is not saying, sport at any price. It is saying, sport on our terms or we don't play. That stand may be more admirable than Canada's, but it's still politics. And, in any case, the Canadians say the Taiwanese are welcome to compete. It's their politics the Canadians don't want.
Apropos the above, a suggestion has been made that the IOC might consider adopting. Since in theory the Olympic Games are for competition between individuals, not nations, why not create a new category, a sort of "Unattached" group? An athlete from South Africa or Taiwan or New Zealand or even, if you can imagine it, Red China, which is not in the Olympic movement, could come to the Games—assuming he achieved qualifying standards—and compete as an individual. This would get politics out of sport, and athletes into it.
Assuming Commissioner Larry O'Brien and the NBA board of governors approve, this is the way the four divisions in the country's only major professional basketball league will line up when play begins next fall:
It's kind of surprising how the addition of only four new teams makes the structure seem so much more solid.
New Orleans Jazz
San Antonio Spurs
Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Lakers
Portland Trail Blazers
The American love for personalized license plates has now shown up in tennis circles. Mrs. Lloyd Salders of Johnson County, Kans. paid the required $25 surcharge and got a plate that reads 10SBUF. Dr. Lawrence Green of Arkansas City, Kans. has one along the same general lines that reads 10SNE1.
WINTER OF DISCONTENT
Last week we mentioned the trouble the Detroit Tigers had with Bat Day, when because of difficulties in ordering new bats a substantial number of the models given away were those of players long since gone from the Tiger roster. But that was a minor problem compared to the travail of the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association, who held a Jacket Night last Jan. 28. The Whalers drew a capacity crowd to the 10,507-seat Civic Center in Hartford, Conn., but they were able to obtain only about 4,000 green Whaler jackets to give away on the big night. The unlucky folks in the crowd were given rain checks for jackets to come later in the season. But delay followed delay, and the extra jackets did not reach Hartford until June 25, well after even the overlong professional ice hockey schedule had ended. The jackets that did arrive bore the symbols of the Oakland A's and the Milwaukee Brewers. Wrong cities, wrong teams, wrong sport. Wait 'til next year, Whaler fans. The club has re-reordered.
MAN, THE MASTER
Hans Matth√∂fer, the West German Minister for Research and Technology, played two games of chess and part of a third with a computer and scored a signal triumph for untransistorized man. Matth√∂fer, an experienced chess player, checkmated the computer in the first game in 26 moves after only half an hour of play and again in the second game in 39 moves after 40 minutes. In the third game the computer resigned because of a technical failure at the beginning of play.
"You have only to attack sharply and the computer gets scared," said Matth√∂fer. "I noticed that right away."
There is a small, not terribly vigorous, movement in college golf to turn that game into a total team sport. Some coaches feel that while golf is basically an individual effort, in NCAA play the team title is more important than individual victory, and that because of this teammates and coaches should become more closely involved with each individual's play. Under NCAA rules, which follow The Rules of Golf, a player is not allowed to accept advice during a round from a coach or a teammate. Karl Tucker, golf coach at Brigham Young University, says the NCAA could waive that provision. He says college golf is team competition like other intercollegiate sports and coaches and teammates should be allowed to help.
Other coaches, on the borderline between traditional-golf and team-sport concepts, suggest that it would be O.K. for a teammate to give advice, arguing that under golf rules playing partners in match play can consult with one another. These coaches say that players on the same team in NCAA medal competition ought to be given the same option.
At the same time, this school of thought is distinctly reluctant to let coaches get involved in the advice-giving, fearing that overeager mentors would be trotting back and forth around the course counseling five or six players on every shot, slowing play and turning the affair into a circus. Their concern seems well grounded. Can't you just see a coach frantically making a "T" sign with his hands as he races across a green to give one of his charges advice on a crucial putt?
THE LAW AND CHARLIE
How binding are Charlie Finley's sales of Vida Blue, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Yankees and Red Sox? If Finley wins his $10-million suit against Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (the case begins on Aug. 2), will it mean that the Yankees must take Blue and pay Finley $1.5 million for him and that the Red Sox must buy Rudi and Fingers for $1 million each? Or can the Yanks, assuming they maintain their huge lead, decide they no longer need Blue; and can the Red Sox, perhaps hopelessly out of the pennant race by then, decide there is no sense spending all that money on a lost cause?
Well, the Yankees feel they own Blue, pending settlement of the court case, and so does Finley. Terms of the agreement between Gabe Paul of the Yankees and Finley were written out on June 15 at a meeting in Finley's office in Chicago. "I signed," Finley says, "and he signed." Barring some extraordinary occurrence, such as an injury to Blue, the Yankees assume he would become their property as soon as the court finds for Finley, if it does.
The Red Sox situation is different. The agreement in that case was a verbal one, reached during a phone conversation between Finley, in his Chicago office, and Red Sox executive Dick O'Connell, who happened to be in DiMaggio's Restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. American League headquarters and the commissioner's office were duly informed of the agreement by teletype, which is standard baseball procedure, but, as in the sale of Blue to New York, the formal exchange of money, contracts, etc. had not taken place by the time Kuhn dropped his bomb.
Contrary to the Yankee position, the Red Sox feel there is no deal, that they have no claim on Fingers and Rudi, nor does Finley have a claim on the $2 million the Red Sox were willing to pay him in June. No matter what the court decides, says Boston, the deal is off, for the moment. If the court finds for Finley, O'Connell and Finley would have to sit down and come to an agreement all over again.
Makes the cheese more binding, doesn't it? One wonders why, when Kuhn voided the deals, Finley did not seek an injunction to stop the commissioner from interfering with what on the surface was normal baseball procedure. The court case should test the legality of Kuhn's decision, but an injunction, if granted, would have permitted Rudi and Fingers and Blue to go to Boston and New York—to be returned to Oakland later if the court found for Kuhn.
Asked why he did not seek such an immediate injunction, Finley said, "It's none of your goddamned business."
THEY SAID IT
•Vida Blue, Oakland A's pitcher embroiled in the Finley-Kuhn fiasco: "Maybe if Oakland and the Yankees meet in the playoffs, I'll just stay on the mound and pitch for both teams."
•Rocky Bridges, manager of the Phoenix Giants in the Pacific Coast League, after finishing second in a pregame cow-milking contest: "I didn't try too hard. I was afraid I'd get emotionally involved with the cow."
•Ken Singleton, Baltimore Oriole outfielder, watching 39-year-old Brooks Robinson play in a 1966 uniform at an Orioles' oldtimers' game: "My bubble-gum card just came alive."