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Some Events Sold Out, but Not All Moscow Is Sold on Goodwill Games

July 14, 1986|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — If Muscovites know only what they read in the Soviet newspapers, they must believe that the Goodwill Games have attracted the world's best athletes to participate in marvelously organized competitions, which are taking place in the most magnificent facilities, all in the name of peace and friendship.

Muscovites have to take the newspapers' words for it because they are not coming to out to see for themselves.

Even though Soviet sports officials contend that attendance has been outstanding, representatives of the two television broadcasters, Gostelradio, the Soviet television committee, and WTBS, Ted Turner's superstation, have complained.

"I've been on these turkeys since the opening day, trying to get more people here," WTBS executive vice-president Robert Wussler said during a press conference last week. "They know. The head of the Soviet television committee calls me each night, saying we've got to do something."

The head of Soviet television, Henrikas Yushkiavitshus, who sat next to Wussler at the press conference, shrugged. He suggested that television's problems with the attendance, or lack of it, are caused by television.

Of 90 million television sets in the Soviet Union, 65% are tuned each night to the Goodwill Games, he said.

Since there are no Nielsen ratings in the Soviet Union, Yushkiavitshus did not explain how he arrived at this figure.

But he could be certain of one thing. No one in the Soviet press would challenge him.

Throughout the city, there are red and blue banners in support of "sport, friendship, peace." Any foreigner who wants a favor, or needs to get out of a tight spot, has only to say "Igre Dobro Voli" or "Goodwill Games" and it is as if a genie has been released from a bottle.

In that spirit, seldom has been heard a disparaging word from the Soviet press.

Sotsialisticheskaya Industria quotes WTBS commentator Bill Russell: "I am greatly impressed by Moscow and the Muscovites. I especially admire clear streets, squares and avenues and the warmth and outgoing friendliness of people."

Krasnaya Zveda quotes Ecuadorian cyclist Mario Ponz: "It is my first visit to the capital of your hospitable country, but I do not feel the difference separating our countries. Your people are so kind and friendly, and your competitions are organized so wonderfully."

Komsomolskaya Pravda quotes U.S. heptathlon winner Jackie Joyner: "The Goodwill Games should become a tradition by all means. I hope that now nobody doubts their expediency and need both for sport and for peace."

There is more, but you probably get the picture. The Soviet press is telling the world, particularly the West, what it missed by boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics.

The Soviet news agency, Tass, has been particularly put out by American journalists who have not looked at everything through red-colored glasses.

In his first column from Moscow, Newsday's Joe Gergen described his plight after one of his suitcases had not arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport at the same time that he did.

Gergen's humor was lost on Tass, which interpreted the column as an insult to the Soviet Union.

"Although this kind of service has not been envisaged for the Goodwill Games, we developed a philanthropic urge the other day to offer Mr. Joseph Gergen a pair of pajamas and a shaving kit," a Tass correspondent wrote.

"The matter is that the U.S. journalist reported that all his sleeping outfit consisted of was a pocket flashlight and that there was a beard growing on his exhausted face.

"It appears that he does not want to tell (his readers) what is really happening in Moscow--the exciting competitions in athletics, swimming, cycling and other sports on the Goodwill Games program.

"His vision has proved most selective. So isn't it high time that Mr. Gergen switched on that flashlight he has brought to Moscow only he himself knows for what reason?"

When Sovietsky Sport published the article, it ran under the headline: "Pajamas for Mr. Gergen."

The Soviet press was more outraged by an article in the Washington Post, in which two American pole vaulters, Mike Tully and Earl Bell, speculated on the source of Soviet pole vaulter Sergei Bubka's strength.

Tass dispatched a correspondent to Bubka's Ukrainian home in Donetsk for an interview, in which the pole vaulter said, "I say that the Washington Post wants to show mistrust and discord between Soviet and American sportsmen, to cast aspersion on my accomplishments and those of Soviet athletes in general, to poison the atmosphere of the Goodwill Games."

Tickets for the women's basketball final in the 7,000-seat Druzhba Gym were the most difficult to acquire during the first week of competition. It was sold out well in advance, forcing fans who wanted tickets to stand outside the gym and "shoot rabbits." That is the Russian expression for having the good fortune to find a scalper with a spare ticket.

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