The light of the Olympic torch every four years is bright, cheerful, but in one respect mildly deceiving. In an ordinary year, between Olympics, the world plays at, or works at, more than 100 sports. The Olympics, of necessity, are limited to 22 sports, and so, while in the splendor of the moment, it may seem like more, an Olympic program is only a sampler of world sport, a compromise of varied tastes designed to get the world together. Track occupies the Olympic center stage, yet it is not the favorite sport of any country. During the Games the U.S. loves track and swimming, but when the torch burns out, the U.S. goes back to baseball, basketball, football and the horses. At the Olympics, gymnastics seems to be the sport of Russia, and field hockey the sport of India. Actually the Russians and the Indians prefer soccer, at which the Russians are very good and the Indians second-rate.
With the Rome Games still two years off, Olympic enthusiasm is still at an ebb, but this current year, 1958, shows promise of becoming a record breaker for world competition. Already athletes in more than 25 sports are making plans to compete somewhere on the other side of the ocean or the other side of the Curtain. In the first week of the year, Roshan Khan of Pakistan won the U.S. Open squash title, and in another week trackmen from Poland and Yugoslavia were trading elbow jabs with the U.S. runners on the indoor track circuit. This week the skiers of three continents are gathering for the world Alpine championships at Bad Gastein, Austria. As the table on the following two pages shows, the skiers will be followed in Europe by figure skaters, speed skaters and hockey teams. In April the U.S. amateur basketball champions will probably give the Russians a lesson and a licking in Moscow. In July the U.S. gymnasts will be in Moscow, taking a lesson and probably a licking. Hopefully, if the trammels of financing can be disposed of, the U.S. and Russia will hold a midsummer track meet in Moscow. In August sailors from South America, North America and Europe will be competing for the world Star class title in San Diego. The supremacy in the world's No. 1 sport, soccer, will be settled in Stockholm this June. For the first time the world fencing championships will be held in the U.S.—in Philadelphia in the early fall. This summer there probably will be world meets in skin-diving and sky-diving. The International Archery Federation holds its meet in Brussels this July, and it may come as a faint surprise to 150 million Americans that we are the defending champions. What with all the recent noise about O'Malley and the Chavez Ravine, few may recall that there is now a global world series of semipro baseball scheduled for early September in Milwaukee, U.S.A., which is portent enough for a successful series.
The worst that can be said for 1958 from a U.S. point of view is that at some of the best moments, the U.S. will only be an onlooker this summer at the Asian Games in Tokyo, at the Empire Games in Cardiff and at the European Games in Stockholm.
An Olympic program could never hope to handle the whole world's grab bag of sports. Sports exhibit a number of lifelike qualities of the sort that first prompted the naturalist, Darwin, to think deeply about the existence of all living things. Some sports flourish remarkably from birth; others run almost perpetual risk of extinction. Some have remarkable powers of regeneration. Some evolve and survive; others stand pat and die (the breed of archers is growing; the cricketers are declining). The spread of some hardy sports is checked by rivals that already have a firm hold on the land. American football is as hurly-burly a beast as you might find, but it ranges only on this continent, north of Mexico and west to Hawaii—surrounded by a world of soccer. The Australians would love the slam-bang American game, but they already enjoy losing their teeth in three different kinds of football.
There is just now starting in the U.S. an organization aimed to promote understanding through the appreciation of all sports, amateur and professional, competitive or casual. Last September President Eisenhower urged the creation of a People to People Program "to leap governments—if necessary to evade governments—to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can learn a bit more of each other." Sport is one of the methods Eisenhower had in mind, and the People to People Committee for Sport, headed by a familiar old boxing, bobsledding Olympian, Eddie Eagan, has been trying to knock over barriers and help sports spread on the international scene. The Eagan committee is already keeping tabs on 70 sports, most of which are in good health and likely to be around for a few centuries.