Wednesday, February 18, 1998
Lindros on Team USA in 2002?
Of course, at the same time, Paul Kariya, Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros would be playing for Team USA.
The proposal is that an athlete would play for the country in which he is employed, not the country in which he is born.
A move of this nature is certainly not imminent, but it is not a fantasy either. It has been discussed at the IOC level, and controversies such as the one involving Ulf Samuelsson hasten the day that it will become reality.
It might sound preposterous. But let's not forget that only 25 years ago, the participation of professionals was equally preposterous.
As recently as 1972, Avery Brundage was the International Olympic Committee chairman and Bunny Ahearn was the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation. Both men fought bitterly against anything less than pure, unsullied amateurism in the Olympics.
In those days, eligibility scandals were frequent. They invariably concerned charges of professionalism against someone who had accepted either a gift or an expense payment that was deemed to be too high.
But now, professionals rule the Olympics.
At first glance, it doesn't seem right that an athlete such as Lindros could represent the United States. But on further thought, there's ample precedent. When the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series, there were no Canadians on the team, let alone any Torontonians.
In fact, it is that kind of professionalism that is the underlying concept behind the fledgling move toward buying players for a nation.
Look at Germany, for instance. This is a rich country and the IOC wants the Olympics to be a major event there so that the television rights can be sold for a massive amount.
But Germany is not developing any hockey players because the wealthy German league prefers to buy foreigners to stock its rosters, usually Canadians and Scandinavians. As a result, German talent is not developed and the level of play by Germans -- as opposed to the level of play in Germany -- is dropping steadily.
This is even a problem in German soccer. The nation that has traditionally been a world-class force is seriously concerned about its future status, as German teams buy more and more foreigners. This year, the teams agreed among themselves to limit the number of foreigners on the roster. But Stuttgart refused to comply, and since it's near the top of the league, the agreement probably will collapse.
The story is much the same in another wealthy European nation -- the United Kingdom. Although the UK has never been a Winter Olympics powerhouse, this year's team is more pathetic than usual.
UK interest in the events at Nagano is marginal at best, and the top newspapers, which usually send teams of high-profile writers, have all but blown off the Olympics, usually sending just one feature writer.
The lack of journalists doesn't concern the IOC, but the lack of British interest does -- again, because of the impact such a development has on television revenues.
So what is the answer? It's obvious. Let these countries buy some athletes.
The concept has already been firmly entrenched in the English Football Association, which would now be more correctly named the World All-Star League. If the British can afford soccer players, the IOC reasons, they can afford hockey players.
Similarly, if the Germans can afford Scandinavian imports for their hockey league, they can also afford a few Olympic athletes, perhaps some of Austria's skiers, some of Russia's figure skaters and maybe even a few Canadian curlers.
That's why it's the Germans who are the leading proponents of identifying an athlete by his country of employment.
The IOC gave the idea short shrift the first time it was proposed -- just like it sloughed off the first few attempts to allow professional participation. But eventually, it's quite possible those who run the IOC will change their minds.
All you have to do is think the way the IOC members think.
Who would be helped by this move? The rich nations.
Who would be hurt by this move? The poor nations.
And of the above, which will give the IOC more money?
There's your answer.