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Olympics Now Open to Tennis : Top Pros Can Compete If They Abide by Rules

May 12, 1987|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Even though it may offend some of the members' sensibilities that they are not paid as well as the athletes, the International Olympic Committee has opened the 1988 Summer Games to tennis professionals.

But that doesn't mean the IOC members have to sleep with them.

"When a man who makes a million dollars a year goes to sleep in the (athletes') village, he has the Olympic spirit," said Comte Jean de Beaumont of France.

Thus, Beaumont, heretofore a critic of the IOC's rapidly progressing courtship of professionals, raised his voice in accord Monday with 83 other members here for the 92nd Session as they accepted by acclamation a proposal granting eligibility to all tennis players for the Seoul Olympics in South Korea.

"The best tennis players in the world should have a right to participate," said West Germany's Willi Daume, who has ushered through liberalized rules in several sports as chairman of the IOC's eligibility commission.

"We are not interested in having Olympic gold medals winners who are not the best. The idea of the Olympic Games is that the best should compete."

But Daume emphasized that this will be an experiment that will be re-evaluated after the 1988 Summer Games, a stipulation that might have been necessary for the proposal's passage.

Several members said they would have voted against the proposal if it had applied beyond 1988. Most of the opposition came from East Bloc and Third World members.

"Tennis millionaires should not be in the Olympics," said Virgilio de Leon of Panama. "But a majority of the members wants to try it this one time. Then we'll see."

Millionaires or not, the tennis players will be required to abide by the same rules as the other athletes representing their countries. They must wear their national uniforms, submit to drug testing and live in the Olympic village instead of deluxe hotel rooms, such as those in which IOC members stay.

"They're just like any of the other athletes, even the plain old rowers," said Anita DeFrantz, an IOC member from the United States and a bronze medalist in the 1976 Summer Games in plain old rowing.

Although the tennis players may be willing to rough it during the Games, there are other restrictions that could interfere with their prior contractual obligations.

For the 16 days of the Games, and for as many as 14 days before, the players must suspend their endorsement contracts. For instance, John McEnroe, who has an apparel contract with Nike, would have to wear a uniform manufactured by Adidas, which is the official supplier of the U.S. Olympic team. Even if McEnroe doesn't object, Nike might.

Players also will be prohibited from wearing commercial logos on their uniforms during the Games and from accepting prize money for their Olympic performances unless it is awarded by their national Olympic committees.

Another rule prohibits players from appearing in another tournament in South Korea from two weeks before the Opening Ceremony until two weeks after the Closing Ceremony. That is designed to prevent an opportunistic promoter from scheduling a professional tournament close to the Games in South Korea to take advantage of the players' presence there.

The proposal was the result of a joint effort between Daume and France's Philippe Chatrier, president of the International Tennis Federation. In a tone that some IOC members regarded as a threat, Chatrier had said that if tennis professionals do not belong in the Olympics, then neither does tennis.

"Tennis is such a big sport, the Olympic Games would not be complete without it," Daume said.

Tennis will be an official Olympic sport at the Seoul Games for the first time since 1924. It was a demonstration sport at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, where professionals were allowed to compete if they were not older than 21. The singles champions were Sweden's Stefan Edberg and West Germany's Steffi Graf.

Both have said they would like to defend their championships at Seoul.

"If you talk to the players, most of them want to go," West Germany's Boris Becker told Reuters in February. "Tennis is a very popular sport now, and the Olympics can only help."

There will be 64 players in the men's singles tournament, 32 in the women's singles. There also will be competition in men's and women's doubles. No country will be represented by more than three men and three women.

Chatrier said here last week that Ivan Lendl has expressed interest in competing at Seoul.

But Lendl may not be eligible because of the ITF's requirement that players make themselves available for their countries' Davis or Federation cup teams before they can be selected for the Olympics. Lendl, a Czechoslovakian citizen who lives in the United States, has refused in recent years to play for the Czech Davis Cup team.

"I spoke to Lendl recently, and he told me he is going to take out U.S. citizenship," Chatrier said.

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