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Ted Turner's Latest Broadcast Vision: World Peace Through Goodwill Games

December 20, 1985|NORMAN CHAD | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Considering the volatile nature of world politics and the increasing numbers of sports boycotts, one might ask the question: what if they held an Olympics, and nobody came?

But now, because of the bold vision of one of America's iconoclastic and richer men--R.E. (Ted) Turner III--it might be asked: what if they held an Olympic-sized non-Olympics, and everybody came?

Ted Turner's going to do it.

Where Olympic officials have failed ever since the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, next year Turner plans to join the United States and the Soviet Union and about 40 other nations in an 18-sport competition with all the world watching.

The swashbuckling, 47-year-old broadcast executive, the man who sails yachts and owns baseball and basketball teams and creates superstations and makes hostile bids for television networks and buys himself about anything he wants, is going to stage his own Goodwill Games.

The man, when you come right down to it, is going to try to buy world peace. For several million dollars, it seems like a bargain.

Turner contacted the Soviets. Turner is paying the athletes' governing bodies. And Turner is televising the whole thing, offering 129 hours of coverage to U.S. audiences and 180 hours elsewhere and promising to do it again every four years.

As the Turner Broadcasting System prepares for this precedent-setting event from July 5 to 20, 1986, in Moscow, several intriguing questions come to mind:

--How and why did Ted Turner even begin to coordinate an international sporting event of this magnitude with the Soviets?

--Why would the Goodwill Games seemingly be accepted by the two superpowers when the past two Summer Olympics were not?

--Why is a faction of the U.S. Olympic Committee so strongly opposed to the Goodwill Games?

Turner always has moved in bold, striking fashions, and he envisions his creation as a pioneering venture in global relations. He wants world peace as much as the next guy, but unlike most mere mortals, he actually thinks he can swing our destiny.

"I thought, how can we go back and undo the wrongs that occurred both ways (with the U.S.-led 1980 Olympic boycott and the Soviet-led 1984 boycott) and start all over again," Turner said after returning from the Soviet Union earlier this year. "We can best achieve global peace by letting the peoples of the world get to know each other better and learn to work toward common goals.

" . . . Maybe with the spirit of cooperation that the Goodwill Games can foster, we'll really be turning back the clock to start all over again."

Is Turner just blowing hot air on the Cold War?

"(Turner) really believes all that stuff," said TBS Executive Vice President Robert Wussler, a long-time CBS News and Sports executive. "He wants to bring about positive changes. He thinks he can make a difference. . . . Turner is motivated by the history books."

Thus, one day during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Wussler said Turner walked into his office and asked him, "Why can't we do that, and do it better?"

"I didn't pay attention to him at the beginning," Wussler said recently from TBS's Atlanta offices. "Then I went home one night and watched the women's volleyball. I said, 'He's right. We can do it better.' "

Subsequently, TBS began a lengthy series of negotiations with the Soviets. Wussler, 49, who has made 70 trips to the Soviet Union in 24 years in the television business, was Turner's point man.

Wussler leaned heavily on his relationship with Henrikas Yushkiavitshus, vice chairman of Gosteleradio, the Soviet Union's state committee for television and radio.

"The fact that the Soviets like Turner and the fact that they know me was critical," Wussler said. "They've never let me down, and I've never let them down. I've spent a good chunk of my life there. It's a little like the salesman who visits Des Moines four times a year. You get to know the guy pretty well, and you say, 'Let's buy him lunch.' "

Also critical to the talks with the Soviet's sport ministry (Soyuzsport) was the involvement of The Athletics Congress, the governing body of track and field in the United States.

TAC's executive director, Ollan Cassell, who also has longstanding relationships with the Soviets, is serving as coordinator for the Goodwill Games at the request of TBS and the Soviets.

Wussler said a key was that Yushkiavitshus "knew I wasn't a guy off the street selling him an empty barrel." Finally, after more than six months of travels, talks and telexes, an agreement was signed Aug. 6 committing TBS to the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow and the 1990 Games in a U.S. city.

While Turner talks about history-making, he also knows a thing or two about profit-making. World peace, after all, might not mean as much to a man deep in debt. TBS spokesman Michael Oglesby said TBS should "come close to breaking even or making a marginal profit on the Games."

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