LET THESE NEW GAMES BEGIN
The Goodwill Games, Ted Turner's financially troubled enterprise with the Soviet Union, will open in Moscow on Saturday with either a bang or a whimper. A whimper is more likely, but allow them a honeymoon. By the time they end July 20, some world records may fall and some stirring competition will no doubt be witnessed.
The Turnerusski Games are a strange concoction: a mini-Olympic matchup of the superpowers, with the rest of the world invited as an afterthought. A made-for-TV event that serves as programming fodder for Turner's cable superstation. A star-studded, hammer-and-sickled ego trip for Turner himself. And yes, a sincere attempt, by Turner's standards, to bring the world closer together.
The whole idea of the games, which Baron de Turner dreamed up when the Soviets failed to appear at the Los Angeles Olympics in '84, is audacious. Here's an $89 million joint venture between a commercial broadcaster, who has direct access to American living rooms, and the U.S.S.R. No middlemen, no International Olympic Committee, no U.S. Olympic Committee, no State Department. Just Ted, Gorby and the gang. The games will be televised for 129 hours via Turner's WTBS super-station and a syndicated network of over-the-air stations that will reach about 82% of the U.S.
July 6, 1986
Turner, who's investing $35 million in the games and an additional $15 million in promotion, is facing a $10 to $30 million loss. He has been shamelessly hyping the games, calling them "bigger than the Olympics," the last two of which were "shams." This, of course, is rubbish. True, the Goodwill Games have been made to look like the Olympics. There will be competition among more than 4,000 athletes from 60 countries in 18 sports. But because other important meets and world championships are being held around the same time, many of the world's great athletes will be no-shows.
For example, the world swimming and diving championships are set for Aug. 13-23 in Spain. That means the U.S. Swimming Federation will send men's and women's B teams to Moscow in lieu of its best swimmers, who will stay home to train for the worlds. Greg Louganis, the peerless American diver, will also be at home training and will appear in an exhibition at Sea World in Orlando rather than go to Moscow. Michael Gross. West Germany's Olympic gold medal swimmer, will not compete in the Goodwill Games either. Without performers like these, what will the swimming and diving be worth?
The Commonwealth Games, which are going to be held in Edinburgh July 24-Aug. 2, are drawing British, Canadian, Australian and other athletes away from the Goodwill. The cream of British track stars—including runners Steve Cram, Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe and decathlete Daley Thompson—is trying to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. So is South African-born runner Zola Budd. France's Olympic pole vault aces, Pierre Quinon and Thierry Vigneron, are staying home to perform in national meets. Says Pierre Amardeilh, a spokesman for the French swimming federation: "The games are not the summit of the sports world. Frankly, we find that the games were organized as money earners for the Soviets and for the Americans."
Still, American stars Edwin Moses, Carl Lewis and Willie Banks, the world-record holder in the triple jump, are going. So are sprinter Evelyn Ashford, heptathlete Jackie Joyner and long jumper Carol Lewis. The women's basketball competition will showcase Cheryl Miller; there is no men's basketball in the games, but WTBS will televise the men's world championships from Madrid as part of the Goodwill television package. "Gymnast Tim Daggett will also compete in Moscow. There will be any number of intriguing U.S.-U.S.S.R. matchups, including world-record holder Sergei Bubka versus Joe Dial in the pole vault, and the U.S. wrestling team, which includes three 1984 gold medalists, against the vaunted Soviets.
One reason Turner is losing money on the games is that he's handing out $6 million in checks for U.S. athletes' goodwill. Without stars and decent TV ratings, he figures, the games won't be worth a plugged kopek. All 18 of the U.S. sporting federations participating in the games have been visited by the tooth fairy. And each track and field athlete is getting at least $3,000 to compete (some, e.g., Lewis and Moses, are reportedly getting far more; Lewis will be chauffeured around Moscow in a Turner limousine).
The knock on the Goodwill—and it's a valid one—is that an entrepreneur in effect is hiring the athletes, at least on the American side, and also deciding which sports will be played. It's commercialism's fullest and boldest triumph over amateur sport to date. But it's also the first top-level multisports confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union in more than a decade. And that counts for quite a lot.
THE BIAS AFTERMATH
Len Bias, the former Maryland basketball star who died of cocaine intoxication on June 19 (SI, June 30), was buried last week. He was eulogized as a good young man who made a tragic decision to try drugs. "You cannot judge Lenny, or any other player, on the basis of his last shot," said Rev. Jesse Jackson.
But Bias's death raised troubling questions. A Prince Georges (Md.) County grand jury will try to clarify the mysterious circumstances under which Bias obtained cocaine on the morning of his death and could conceivably file criminal charges against those involved. The University of Maryland Board of Regents, meanwhile, will begin an internal investigation into the handling of the Bias case by Terrapin basketball coach Lefty Driesell, who reportedly advised his players how to answer—or not answer—media and police questions about the case. Driesell says that he called his players together on the morning of Bias's death only to console and pray with them.
The Board of Regents also will look into reports of academic abuses and drug use by other Maryland athletes. Five of 12 basketball players—including Bias—reportedly flunked out of school during the spring semester, and on Tuesday the basketball team's academic counselor, Wendy Whittemore, resigned, saying she felt education is not Driesell's top priority. Whittemore told The Washington Post that Maryland basketball players missed 35% to 40% of their classes last season and that Driesell didn't always act in the best academic interests of his players. Whittemore's predecessor as academic counselor, Larry Roper, made similar complaints when he resigned last year.
Maryland apparently has also been lax in the administration of its drug testing of athletes, which began last fall. University officials admitted for the first time last week that several athletes had tested positive and that there may have been cheating—switching of urine samples—during the tests. Furthermore some players had been warned four weeks in advance of supposedly random tests. The university has promised to tighten control of its drug-testing procedures.
In response to last week's revelations, Maryland chancellor John Slaughter announced that he would shift control of the academic support unit for athletes from the athletic department to the academic sector. He also said he would convene a special session of the NCAA Presidents Commission, which he chairs, and insist the group take a strong stand against drug use in college athletics.
Bias's death—and that of Cleveland Browns safety Don Rogers last week (page 18)—may or may not discourage drug use to any significant extent, but it at least has brought the drug problem to the fore. Cocaine hot lines nationwide have been besieged. NBC hastened its plans to air anti-drug spots on all its sports telecasts. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, called for support of three bills aimed at drug prevention and education.
BOOM YEAR FOR A COURTLY GAME
The summer folk on Martha's Vineyard are doing it. The beautiful people of Malibu are doing it. Even President Reagan's nominee for Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, does it on his lawn in Arlington, Va.—and he has done it for a while.
They're all playing croquet, that old whack-the-ball-through-the-wicket game you enjoyed as a kid. According to Jack R. Osborn, president of the U.S. Croquet Association in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., up to 300,000 croquet sets will be sold this year, twice as many as five years ago. Osborn says there are perhaps "seven million sets in the garages and attics of American homes, and many are coming out of storage." And this isn't just a domestic phenomenon. Croquet courts are springing up in retirement communities in China. Soviet cosmonauts, upon returning to earth, are being encouraged to unwind by playing croquet. There are more than 6,000 tournament players in Australia.
"We're in our second boom season," says Dick Corbin, president of Forster Mfg. of Wilton, Maine, the only domestic maker of croquet equipment. "In the U.S. it's because—I hate to use this term—Yuppies have taken it on." Forster, which competes with British and Taiwanese firms for the U.S. market, makes 14 different croquet sets. They range from one with plastic caps on the mallet ends to a $200 tournament set. "The purist just would not hit with the lesser set," Corbin says.
These purists, says Osborn, compete in the "sport" of croquet, not the "backyard game" of croquet. "In the sport you stand erect, and you play on absolutely flat, putting-surface-type courts," he explains. "People always picture a guy bent over, hitting a colored ball with one hand and that's a tough image for us to shake." He points out that the serious player, of which there are perhaps 3,000 in the U.S., must, at the highest level of competition, drive the ball through a wicket with only an eighth of an inch breathing space. "From five feet, it's like tossing a marshmallow into a piggy bank," says Osborn, who has played the game competitively for 27 years.
As for Justice Rehnquist, an aide in his chambers confides that he plays regularly, often with his law clerks, but "only for relaxation." It is said that his game is conservative.
MARTIN'S MELTING POT
Yankee broadcaster Billy Martin, after committing no fewer than three errors while trying to pronounce the name of Red Sox shortstop Rey Qui√±onez, came up with this suggestion: Have all Latin ballplayers adopt "American names...like Smith or Jones" when they make the major leagues.
THEY SAID IT
•Abe Lemons, Oklahoma City basketball coach, on how he came within two strokes of winning a car at a golf tournament: "It was a hole-in-one contest and I had a three."
•Jake LaMotta, who recently married for the sixth time, commenting on his best man, Sugar Ray Robinson: "He was the best man in our fights, too."