IS THIS TOUR NECESSARY?
Once again there's talk of an Olympic boycott—this time of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. The immediate cause of the trouble is the scheduled 16-match tour of New Zealand undertaken last week by a South African national rugby team, the Springboks, over the protests of black African nations that have long sought to punish South Africa for its apartheid policies, in part by isolating it from international sports competition. South Africa has been drummed out of both the Olympics and Davis Cup play. Further, black African nations boycotted the 1976 Games to protest the Olympic participation of New Zealand, which had sent a rugby team to South Africa earlier that year.
Despite these precedents, New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon declined to block the Springboks' tour of his rugby-mad country. No sooner did the tour begin than the trouble did, too. There were protest marches throughout New Zealand as well as violent clashes that pitted anti-apartheid demonstrators against police and rugby fans, resulting in the cancellation of one match and prompting the government at one point to consider scrapping the rest of the tour. Then there was the angry reaction of black African nations, which hinted that if New Zealand isn't punished for welcoming the Springboks by being expelled from the 1982 Commonwealth Games and the '84 Olympics, the Africans would boycott those events.
A storm over the Springboks may also be brewing in the U.S. The South Africans arrived in New Zealand via a circuitous route, including stopovers in New York and Los Angeles, after Australia and other countries refused to grant them landing rights. Besides letting the Springboks use the U.S. for transit, the State Department has issued visas allowing them to play matches in September in Chicago, Albany, N.Y. and New York City, appearances that will certainly be greeted by demonstrators and provoke the further wrath of black Africans, thereby greatly increasing the likelihood of their boycotting the L.A. Games.
Powerless to intervene directly because rugby is a non-Olympic sport, International Olympic Committee officials could only express their dismay last week at the willingness of the Reagan Administration to admit the Springboks. "They've taken leave of their senses," IOC Director Monique Berlioux told SI Geneva correspondent Robert Kroon. "We've seen the Africans boycott Montreal because of New Zealand's chumminess with the South African rugbymen. Now it's the host country that's inviting them. If this tour isn't canceled, the damage to Los Angeles may be enormous."
A year ago Berlioux and other IOC leaders objected to the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics by piously insisting that sports and politics don't mix; now they're urging cancellation of a sports event for political reasons. But if the IOC is guilty of inconsistency, the U.S. would be similarly inconsistent if, having boycotted an Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it now dared argue that politics be left out of sports. The admission of a national South African team—as distinct from the individual South African athletes who sometimes compete in the U.S.—would itself be a highly charged political act, one that would undermine a concerted international effort to ostracize South Africa as punishment for policies of racial superiority that black Africans rightly consider an abomination. Besides smacking of racial insensitivity, allowing the Springboks to tour the U.S. would be foolhardy for purely practical reasons: It would risk the wrecking of an Olympics for the sake of three rugby matches.
Officials of the USOC and the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee have their fingers crossed that if the Springbok tour of the U.S. takes place, the resulting controversy will blow over by 1984. But like Berlioux, they would be happier if the tour simply didn't come off. Last week USOC President William E. Simon, who occupied Cabinet-level posts in the Nixon and Ford Administrations, urged American rugby officials to reconsider their invitation to the Springboks, and it's easy to imagine that Simon and the well-connected Southern Californians who are putting on the '84 Olympics will try to use their influence to persuade the Reagan Administration to block the tour. In deciding to grant visas to the Springboks, the State Department said it had "no grounds for not admitting them." In fact, it has wide discretion to withhold visas, witness the cat-and-mouse game the U.S. and South Africa have long played in denying and canceling visas to each other's journalists, educators and government personnel. It would be an easy matter to play that same game with visas for visiting rugby teams.
Because of the nation's sagging housing market, some contractors and home owners have lately tried to dispose of slow-moving houses by raffling them off. Now comes Jack Large of Allentown, Pa. with a new wrinkle. Unable to find a suitable buyer for his $65,000 Cape Cod-style house, Large decided to let would-be owners run for it. The result is a half marathon, scheduled to be held in Allentown on Oct. 4, in which Large's house will be the top prize.
Large, 43, used to sell Cadillacs for a living and now runs an advertising agency. It's the only running he does. Despite his lack of background in road racing, he hit on the idea of staging the 13.1-miler as a way of getting around legal problems he feared would be involved in simply raffling off the house. Now all he has to do is come to grips with the rules governing amateurism in running. As Large has it figured, professional runners who enter his race will vie for cash prizes totaling $10,000, but only amateurs will be eligible for the house and other prizes, including motorcycles and a car. He seems not overly concerned that 1) competing for a $65,000 house might compromise one's amateur standing and 2) there are potential problems involved in putting amateurs and professionals in the same race.
A fast-talking sort who gives the impression that he could sell almost anything—except, of course, his house—Large has enlisted support for his novel venture from Allentown Mayor Frank Fischl. Large says he will charge a $25 entry fee and that he expects as many as 9,000 entrants. The $225,000 in resulting revenues would cover the purchase price of his house, the other prizes and the $100,000 he says he'll spend promoting the event. Oh, yes, Large says the house won't necessarily go to the first runner across the finish line. He says he hopes to somehow devise a workable handicapping formula based on past performance that would allow winners to be selected on a corrected-time basis. That way, even the slowest of the 9,000 runners could conceivably get the keys to Large's digs.
GILDING THE LILLY
In an act of contrition, somebody recently sent a package to DePauw University Athletic Director Tommy Mont containing an assortment of freshly laundered towels, socks and jockstraps—plus $100 in cash. Included was an unsigned note explaining that the objects had been swiped from DePauw some time ago and that the returnee had felt pangs of remorse. Though unexplained, the $100 apparently was conscience money, and Pat Aikman, DePauw's public relations director, has already suggested a suitable use for it. Noting that the school expects to open its new $7.2 million Lilly Physical Education and Recreation Center in January, Aikman says, "The $100 will probably buy some padlocks."
SEVERE CASE OF THE "ATS"
Florida State Sports Information Director Mark Carlson has been sending members of the media copies of the Seminoles' 1981 football schedule bearing notations like the following: "Bobby [Coach Bobby Bowden] and I would both be happy if you could do something about rearranging that little gem." Although recipients of the schedule won't be able to honor Carlson's request, they could at least proffer a little sympathy. The notation refers to this five-game stretch on Florida State's slate:
Sept. 19 at Nebraska
Oct. 3 at Ohio State
Oct. 10 at Notre Dame
Oct. 17 at Pittsburgh
Oct. 24 at Louisiana State
RAIDERS OF THE LOST SEASON
Whoever designated the letter K to stand for strikeout on baseball score sheets must have been prescient. That symbol seemed only too appropriate last week when, at the behest of Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan, the parties to the major league players' strike moved their efforts to settle the dispute from a New York hotel to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service offices on K Street in Washington. After four days of wrangling, the negotiators whiffed. With talks recessed until this week at the earliest, hopes for salvaging the 1981 baseball season faded.
The prospect that the season might indeed be scrapped spurred some irate fans to form organizations to protest the impasse between the owners and the players; a group of Chicagoans that had called itself UMPS (Union of Mortified Protesting Spectators) during the 1979 umpires' strike has now reconstituted itself as GRUMPS (Grim Revival of the Union of Mortified Protesting Spectators).
There were indications, however, that the American public was learning to live without the national pastime. One letter writer to The Washington Post rhapsodized that "a pleasant calm permeates this summer all across the country" and expressed the heartfelt desire that "this break in the year-round assault of pro sport" be made permanent. Similar sentiments were reflected in an Associated Press-NBC News poll, in which 46% of the 1,599 interviewees said they missed baseball not at all, while only 15% claimed to miss it a great deal. Intriguingly, one-fourth of those respondents who indicated they were aware of the strike said they were spending lost baseball time doing more work around the home; an equal number were seeing more of family and friends; 12% were exercising more; and a whopping 23% were doing more reading. It was as if the public had enrolled en masse in a nationwide self-improvement course. Meanwhile, movie-industry officials credited the strike with having contributed to the tremendous box-office receipts rung up this summer by Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II and The Cannonball Run.
But the strike clearly continued to bother some people, including, improbably enough, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, a confirmed non-fan who allowed that she was finding the tedium of the strike even harder to take than the tedium of the game. Noting that baseball has sometimes been described as 18 minutes of action crammed into three hours, Goodman said the strike was "10 minutes of negotiations crammed into nearly six weeks." She added ruefully, "Hundreds of reporters who normally relay the pearls from the mouths of Babes, Ruth and otherwise, now relay the pearls from the mouths of lawyers." Goodman concluded with a plea that, as the summer months slip away without baseball, seemed at once melancholy and mocking: "For Gawdsakes, Play Ball!"
As a more or less regular feature during the baseball strike, The Columbus Dispatch has been staging—and duly chronicling—board games played by members of its sports department matching great major league "teams" of different eras. One mythical game pitted the 1924 Washington Senators, whose leftfielder was Goose Goslin, against the 1935 Detroit Tigers, whose leftfielder was the selfsame Goose Goslin. In its fanciful report of the Tigers' 15-inning, 10-8 win, the Dispatch quoted Goslin as saying, "You win some, you lose some."
THEY SAID IT
•David Larner, a spokesman for Lloyd's of London, which underwrote most of the $50 million strike insurance purchased by the major league owners: "Baseball? Rather like rounders, isn't it? Never saw the game myself. But I suppose the underwriters never actually saw the Titanic, either."
•Stan Jonathan, Boston Bruin left wing and a full-blooded Tuscarora Indian, speaking at a celebrity roast for teammate Wayne Cashman: "It has been quite a while since anybody from my tribe roasted a white man."