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DATELINE / ST. PETERSBURG : Sporting Press Has Made a Game of Ripping Event

No matter how many wrong turns they took in the maze of life within the Communist system, there was a time not so long ago when Russian VIPs could count on one thing. As long as they were VIPs, they would be handled with care by the country’s media.

How Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, deputy mayor Vitali Mutko and other members of St. Petersburg’s organizing committee for the Goodwill Games must long for those days.

While Goodwill Games President Jack Kelly of Atlanta has been pleading with the U.S. media to consider the difficulty of organizing an international multi-sport event in today’s Russia and be kind, the local media has been whaling away.

They are agitated by the high cost of the Games to the taxpayers, paltry ticket sales, rampant commercialism, athletes who are accepting sizable appearance fees and performing at less than their best, petty thieves who are stealing the colorful Goodwill Games flags from the streets and even the residue of so many visitors in town.

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In an article last week on the impact of the 17-day event upon residents, Valentina Vorobiova, a 56-year-old book binder, was quoted as saying: “I don’t expect good coming out of the Games. I’m worried about our children, with those hordes of foreigners bringing along all sorts of venereal diseases. And terrorist attacks are also possible.”

But most of the carping has been reserved for the organizing committee. The most popular adjective seems to be “bungling.”

One newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, editorialized last week that this edition of the Games has been such a fiasco that Ted Turner should call the whole thing off.

“This is the third time in a row that the persevering American millionaire invests his dollars and takes losses,” the newspaper said. “Maybe this time Jane Fonda’s obstinate husband will do a sensible thing and stop it after Games No. 3.”

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Kristen Tobias, a young American who has lived in St. Petersburg for 1 1/2 years, is in charge of translating Russian newspapers into English for the Turner Broadcasting System. That job, she says, has been depressing.

“The tone of most articles,” she says, “seems to be, ‘Despite all of the terrible problems in the Goodwill Games, there was one positive thing. . . .’ Their attitudes are so different from the American media.”

Dear, dear Tobias, either you have a short memory or you’ve been away from home too long.


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