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Analysis : Olympics Have Doubled Their Message

November 28, 1986|RICHARD B. PERELMAN | (Richard B. Perelman is head of Perelman, Pioneer & Co., a Los Angeles-based consulting and event management firm. He was vice president/press o perations for the Los Angeles Olympic Organization Committee from 1981-84 and editor-in-chief of the LAOOC's Official Report from 1984-85.)

Enthusiasts and supporters of the Olympic movement had much to cheer after the recently completed 90th Session of the International Olympic Committee. Not only were new organizing cities named for Olympic and Olympic Winter Games in 1992, a new era in Olympic organization and responsibility finally dawned.

Precisely because the International Olympic Committee has changed the cycle of Olympic Winter Games to alternate summer and winter competitions every two years, the Olympic flame will burn more brightly than ever before.

Too many observers of worldwide sport and the Olympic movement attempt to guard the Olympic Games and Olympic Winter Games as a relic to be cherished as one would an antique or a memory. Never to be changed, always to be presented as it has been in the past. This is the fault of Olga Connolly's commentary which appeared in The Times on Saturday, Nov. 8.

Thankfully, the view of the current version of the International Olympic Committee is different. It recognizes that the goals of the Olympic movement--notably to inspire and lead sport within the Olympic ideal, thereby promoting and strengthening friendship between the sportsmen of all countries, as well as to insure the regular celebration of the Games--require bold initiative and new thinking to meet the competing ideological and political challenges of other nations, not to mention sports organizations.

This was behind the gradual changes brought to the IOC's eligibility code, which will eventually allow all athletes to compete in the Games, regardless of occupational status as professional athletes. This style of thinking led to the IOC's formation of a drug testing program in 1968, years before it came to fashion in 1986. And by changing the cycle of the Winter Games to 1994, 1998 and beyond instead of continued pairing with the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000 and so on, the IOC has again made a quantum leap in the power of the Olympic movement.

Connolly posits that international camaraderie and national exhilaration are now provided by the Goodwill Games and other international events. While this is true to the extent that the energy output of a 100-watt light bulb and a hydroelectric dam can be compared, this kind of increase in Olympic-goaled events was central to Baron Pierre de Coubertin's quest and is fully and properly supported by the IOC. In 1894, de Coubertin stated clearly his vision for athletic games that would "give the youth of all the world a chance of a happy and brotherly encounter which will gradually efface the peoples' ignorance of things which concern them all, an ignorance which feeds hatreds, accumulates misunderstandings, and hurtles events along a barbarous path toward a merciless conflict." Would de Coubertin have even considered that his idea not be extended to games organized by others, if they had intended benefit in mind? Certainly not. The events of our time, however, have taught the IOC to recognize its uniqueness and that of the Olympic and Olympic Winter Games.

The Olympic Games and Winter Games stand alone among multi-national meetings of any kind, let alone athletic competitions. They provide fierce competition between individuals and nations through sport alone, without regard or reward for political or social viewpoint but only for excellence on the field of play. Contrast this to the Soviet-organized Goodwill Games where, against the backdrop of athletic competition, the opening ceremonies were little more than a prime-time Soviet commercial for nuclear disarmament. The Olympic idea of peace achieved by international and interpersonal relationships developed through sport itself was replaced by a promotion for peace in the name of sport. This is certainly not without value, but we need to feel more warmth from a genuinely "Olympic" flame.

This was provided by the IOC's move of the cycle of the Winter Games. Instead of having to endure the wait of four years between periods when Olympic ideals are brought to the public's collective mind, the IOC will not be able to kindle its flame every two years and fan the fire of its ideals within the public's consciousness before it grows cold after the previous celebration.

The international public responds to the Olympic Games and Olympic Winter Games like no other athletic celebrations, with the possible exception of soccer's World Cup. Neither of the Olympic sports celebrations need each other for lead-ins; these are well provided by the world championships held by each individual sport and the world-record efforts in individual events that draw the public's attention to the sporting world year round. For competitors, one Games remains the ultimate in his or her competitive life depending on their event; what skier could find his Winter Games medal opportunity less exciting because the Olympic Games won't be held in the same year?

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