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Goodwill Games--A Made-for-Detente Ted Turner Spectacular : His Soviet Coup Exposes a Lot of Ill Will in the U.S. Sporting Establishment

March 18, 1986|JULIE CART and RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writers

Ted Turner failed in three attempts to become a member of the U.S. Olympic yachting team, but Atlanta's gift to television, movies, sailing, professional baseball and basketball and, now, perhaps even world peace, is nothing if not persistent.

If you can't join them, beat them.

While watching the 1984 Olympics from Los Angeles on television, Turner was struck with the inspiration that he could create summer games that would be better than the Summer Games.

The result is the Goodwill Games, so called because, as Turner said in an interview, one of his purposes is to promote friendship between the event's two principal nations, the United States and the Soviet Union. If it also makes for good TV and brings prestige and profits to Turner's burgeoning communications empire, so be it.

Scheduled for July 5-20 in the Soviet Union, Goodwill Games I is expected to involve more than 3,500 athletes from 50 nations in 18 sports, most of which also are included in the Summer Olympics. All of the competition will be held in Moscow except for yachting, which will be held in the Estonian seaport of Tallinn.

Turner's superstation, WTBS, and various independent stations, including KTLA (Channel 5) in Los Angeles, will televise 120 hours of Goodwill Games competition in the United States.

Planning already has begun for Goodwill Games II, which is scheduled for 1990 in a U.S. city to be announced in May or June. Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco are among 11 candidates.

If that is too subtle an indication that Turner expects his creation to be a success, there is nothing at all subtle about his recent proclamation that the Goodwill Games are "bigger than the Olympics."

He also said that the last two boycott-marred Summer Olympics were shams.

Not for nothing is Turner known as the Mouth of the South.

Like a patient whose knee had just been struck by a rubber hammer, United States Olympic Committee President Robert Helmick kicked. He called Turner's comments ludicrous and inaccurate.

His candor was surprising only because there had been so little of it before from the USOC in regard to Turner or the Goodwill Games. Since the USOC was not invited to contribute to the effort, some of its members have expressed concern that the committee's role in amateur athletics is being threatened. But the official position of the USOC has been to take no position.

The bottom line for the USOC is that it will not share in any profits, but neither will it have to share in any losses.

Robert Wussler, executive vice president of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., and the man responsible for negotiations with the Soviets, said he is optimistic that there will be profits, even though only one major company, Pepsi Cola, has signed a sponsorship agreement. Pepsi will pay $10 million as the official soft drink of the Goodwill Games and as the sole sponsor of the gymnastics competition.

According to Wussler, the Goodwill Games will cost $86 million. Turner's share is expected to be $32 million, and his two Soviet partners, Gosteleradio, the Soviet Union's state committee for television and radio, and Soyuzsport, the Soviet Union's Ministry of Sports and Physical Culture, each are liable for at least $27 million.

Also included among Turner's expenses are a $7.5-million payment to Soyuzsport for providing Soviet athletes and $3.1 million to Gosteleradio for the television rights.

Expected to be the major beneficiary in the United States is The Athletics Congress, the national governing body for track and field, which was contracted by Turner as the organizer for the Goodwill Games because of Executive Director Ollan Cassell's international sports expertise.

TAC received $5.4 million from Turner to pay the 18 individual U.S. federations for their participation and also to compensate them for their expenses.

As the largest federation, TAC reportedly apportioned $1 million to itself and also received a substantial finder's fee for negotiating terms in the United States and the Soviet Union that will enable most of the other federations to send their best athletes.

Cassell has received commitments from officials in all but two of the 18 sports to send the best athletes available to them this summer, assuring the best, if not necessarily the most significant, international multisport competition outside of the Olympics.

"I don't see this as any made-for-TV type show," said Harvey Newton, executive director of the U.S. Weightlifting Federation. "If it's going to be a cakewalk competition, then fine. We'll all smile and wave and collect our medals. But I don't think it's going to be that way. Most of the best athletes in the world are going to be there."

There will be no men's basketball competition in Moscow, however, because the world tournament is scheduled for the same two weeks in Spain. Also, the best U.S. swimmers will be training for their world meet three weeks later in Madrid.

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