No one was more delighted by the International Olympic Committee's choice of Sydney over Beijing to host the Olympics in 2000 than those members of the U.S. Congress who had sought to keep the Games out of China because of the People's Republic's violations of human rights. Senator Bill Bradley, Democrat of New Jersey, said, "This is a good day for those who are struggling for freedom in China and a proud day for the Olympic movement." Representative Ben Gilman, Republican of New York, called the choice of Sydney a "major victory for human rights the world over."
However, considerations of freedom and human rights had precious little to do with last week's IOC balloting in Monaco. Despite China's abysmal treatment of political dissidents, Beijing led Sydney and the three other bidding cities—Berlin, Istanbul and Manchester—through three rounds of voting. The fourth and final ballot, by which time Istanbul, Berlin and Manchester had, in that order, been eliminated, produced a razor-thin 45-43 victory for Sydney.
Working in favor of Sydney were its impressive Olympic preparations and flawlessly presented bid; the potentially huge marketing opportunities in China for Olympic-related enterprises made Beijing attractive. While it is true that Australia promises greater political stability than China, Beijing's candidacy most likely was hurt less by the opposition of the U.S. Congress than by a single Chinese official's ill-considered reaction to that opposition. Less than a week before the vote, Zhang Baifa, Beijing's executive deputy mayor and head of its bid committee, warned that China might boycott the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta as "revenge" for "meddling" by U.S. politicians. Other Chinese officials quickly called Zhang's threat "an erroneous interpretation" and said there would be no boycott, but Zhang's remarks may have proved fatal to Beijing, possibly causing one or two IOC votes to shift to Sydney. With a group as self-centered as the IOC, one suspects that the hint of an Olympic boycott carried greater weight than issues of freedom and human rights.
October 3, 1993
Not So Fab
Nike officials issued a mea culpa last week after it became known that the eligibility of three dozen of the U.S.'s best high school basketball players was jeopardized by their participation in the Nike Town Fab 40 Shootout on Sept. 11 and 12. "We dropped the ball on this one," said Nike's Keith Peters, and that's putting it mildly. The kids played in two games, and Nike showered each of them with plane tickets, hotel lodging, $350 worth of shoes and clothes, and $100 gift certificates.
Unfathomably, Nike didn't bother to clear any of this with the National Federation of State High School Associations or, except in one case, the various state athletic bodies, all of which have rules limiting the favors athletes can receive and the games in which they can play. The Minnesota State High School Athletic Association allowed Sam Jacobson, a 6'5" senior swingman from Cottage Grove High, to attend the event, but only after Jacobson had insisted that Nike seek such clearance. Another player who was more on the ball than Nike was Pete Lisicky, a 6'4" senior guard from Whitehall (Pa.) High. He cleared his participation with Penn State, the college to which he has committed, as well as with his high school coach, but, bureaucracy being what it is, Pete still has to answer to Pennsylvania officials on Oct. 6.
The fact that the high school players put their trust in a supposedly savvy corporation like Nike may ultimately spare them from suspension. But the episode raises questions about the efforts of sneaker companies—not just Nike—to sink their hooks into young athletes. Ed Sparks, executive secretary of the Maryland Secondary School Athletic Association, called Nike's actions "a form of child abuse," and while that is hyperbolic, Nike is guilty of arrogance in not having checked eligibility rules before the Fab 40 Shoootout. In Nikean terms, the company just did it. To prove that it is truly contrite and not playing a p.r. game, Nike should cut back on its involvement with high school athletes.
How sad that Michael Andretti, after a year in Formula One that was marred by eight early, often disastrous, exits in 12 races, has abruptly left that circuit and will return to Indy Car racing in '94. Sadder still: Andretti won't be rejoining the Newman/Haas team, for which he competed from 1989 to '92; his seat is now occupied by ex-Formula One champion Nigel Mansell, who two weeks ago sewed up the Indy Car title—in Andretti's hometown of Nazareth, Pa. Andretti instead will join the unproven team of Chip Ganassi. A few weeks ago, when it was first speculated that Andretti might lose his Formula One ride, one of his closest advisers fretted that the Newman/Haas and Penske Racing teams, which dominate Indy Car racing, had no spots opening up. "Who's he going to drive for?" the adviser said. "Chip Ganassi?"
When Jack Smith of new provident, Iowa, says "the whole town" is behind the restoration of the Roundhouse Gym, he means the whole town. New Providence has only 250 residents, and virtually all of them are involved in a full-court press to save the Roundhouse, a circular structure that was built in 1936 by the Works Projects Administration and was used for high school basketball games until 1980.
The Roundhouse became a casualty of school consolidation when the middle school in New Providence was closed in June. Because the town's entire student population now attends school in nearby Eldora, the Eldora-New Providence district will no longer maintain the Roundhouse. The townspeople, who have a lifetime of memories-games, gym classes, plays, dances, graduation ceremonies—tied up in the Roundhouse, have banded together to try to raise the $50,000 needed to keep the gym open for youth basketball leagues and the like. So far they've raised about $15,000. "We don't think of it as saving a gym," says Smith. "What we're really saving is part of this town's history."
Tracy Austin is listed as a consultant on ABC's Phenom, a new television show about a 15-year-old girl named Angela Doolan who is a prisoner of her precocious tennis talent. Austin's best advice to the producers would have been: Forget it and work on your backhands.
Phenom offers up the single most irritating character in this season's TV lineup—Coach Lou, a role played to embarrassing excess by the toothy William Devane. Let's see, Coach Lou is a slick-dressing, fast-talking Italian-American who owns a tennis academy and wrote a book about coaching tennis, but, gee, we're not sure if he's based on a real person or not. Coach Lou spends his time interfering with Angela's life and hitting on Angela's mother, played by Judith Light, who researched her role by attending several women's tournaments over the past year. How that prepared Light to endure lines from Coach Lou like "If you were 10 years younger, I'd be suckin' on your neck" is not certain. Young Angela Goethals does her best as the phenom, but she is clearly uncomfortable as a planet in Coach Lou's universe. In that respect, perhaps, the show is accurate.
But it isn't funny, not for one second. Atrocious writing and Devane's awful performance are two reasons. Another is the fact that overbearing coaches' ruining the lives of young tennis players just isn't a funny premise.
On NBC's The Second Half, meanwhile, stand-up comedian John Mendoza plays a Chicago sports columnist who is divorced, slightly overweight, extremely rumpled, disorganized, cynical and somewhat of a couch potato. In other words, he's Oscar Madison. And the comedian brings nothing new to the territory. But we probably won't be seeing the second half of The Second Half, Mendoza's show having finished 62nd in the Nielsens last week. That is definitely below the Mendoza Line for ratings.
They Wrote It
•Glen Macnow, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, on word that NBC-TV analyst Joe Gibbs (above) has 20 speaking appearances lined up at a fee of $20,000 each: "That's amazing since, in 12 years as coach of the Redskins, Gibbs never had anything interesting to say."
•Mike Downey, in the Los Angeles Times, on Nourredine Morceli's recent world record: "Some guy just ran the mile in 3:44. In Southern California, you can't drive a mile in 3:44."
Latest sign that the collapse of civilization as we know it may be just around the corner: Whitey Ford appeared recently on the Home Shopping Network to hawk Joe DiMaggio (right) autographed bats and balls for $4,000 and $300, respectively.
Stuffing a Duck?
Canadians, who take their hockey seriously, are still shaking their heads over the name of the NHL's new franchise in Anaheim, Calif.—the Mighty Ducks. That may or may not explain why one of the names being bandied about by folks in Toronto for the NBA expansion team expected to be awarded to that city is the Mighty Dunks.
They Said It
•Marc Stevens, sportscaster on New York City television station WABC, on the recent no-hitter thrown by Houston Astro righthander Darryl Kyle: "The question is, should it really be considered a no-hitter? It did come against the Mets."