SEOUL, South Korea — The Palestine Liberation Organization won a new beachhead in international sports as the Olympic Council of Asia, the governing body of the Asian Games, approved unanimously--and by surprise--provisional membership for the PLO.
Sheik Fahad Ahmed Sabah of Kuwait, president of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), told newsmen today that provisional membership alone will not enable the PLO to participate in either the 1988 Olympics in Seoul or the 1990 Asian Games in Peking.
The action, which was revealed in a single sentence in an announcement issued Thursday that focused on the granting of membership to Taiwan, however, is believed to be a prelude to a PLO request for membership in the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
OCA officials withheld all comment on the action, described as a surprise even by South Koreans who are hosting the 10th Asian Games here, until today's news conference.
Fahad refused to comment as to whether the action meant that the OCA, which now represents 38 Asian Olympic committees, will back PLO membership in the IOC.
In March, 1984, a PLO spokesman announced that the organization might seek IOC acceptance in time to participate in the Los Angeles Games five months later. But, at the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee's insistence, the IOC declared that no new Olympic committees would be accepted until after the 1984 Games.
The next meeting of the IOC's full membership is scheduled for October in Lausanne, Switzerland. The PLO issue is not on the agenda.
"The PLO will not get full membership in our council until they are accepted into the International Olympic Committee or until another resolution is passed by the OCA general assembly," Fahad said.
He indicated, however, that the OCA might act independently of the International Olympic Committee to allow the PLO to participate in the 1990 Asian Games in Peking.
"The decisions of the OCA are independent decisions. They are not subject to supervision by any outside body," Fahad said.
Two OCA general assembly meetings are scheduled before the 1990 Asian Games--one in November, 1987, in Calcutta, India, and another during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Many OCA members were unaware that the PLO provisional membership was part of the agenda of the OCA's Seoul meeting until Thursday, when Fahad nominated the PLO immediately after Taiwan's admission request had been accepted.
As a member of 10 individual sports federations, the PLO has had representatives here since the opening of the Asian Games last Saturday. But as recently as Wednesday, Choy Man Lip, vice-president and general secretary of the Korean Olympic Committee, said in an interview that the PLO had no official business with OCA and would not be considered for membership at these meetings.
"It was a very smart psychological ploy by Fahad," said the OCA staff member who was present at the general assembly meeting.
"He first introduced Taiwan's request for membership, which he knew was a popular issue. Even the Chinese spoke on their behalf. When he asked that Taiwan be approved unanimously, the membership applauded.
"Then he said that since Taiwan had been accepted, so should the Palestinians. There was no discussion. No one wanted to interrupt the positive momentum of the meeting. Again, there was applause, and the matter was settled without an official vote."
Asked why there had been no dissent, particularly in light of a Palestinian terrorist group's role in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, the staff member said: "No one has the courage to stand up to the Arabs. This is an organization with no guts."
Arab nations supply most of the oil for many OCA members, particularly Japan and South Korea.
He said the Munich murders, committed by a Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September, was not discussed. PLO leader Yasser Arafat has disavowed any connection with Black September.
Of the 36 OCA members before the admission of Taiwan and the PLO, 13 are Arab nations. Even though they lack a majority, they wield the most influence. Kuwait's Fahad was reelected OCA president for another four-year term Thursday without opposition.