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September 11, 2000
Trying times for AgassiAndy O'Brien
With Andre Agassi, it's always personal. From matches to meals, nothing for him is dispassionate. Everything is a matter of mood. So when Agassi announced that he was withdrawing from the Olympics for "personal reasons," it wasn't a stock and trade tennis excuse, one of those fake injuries guys are always coming up with to get out of playing. It meant something serious. The only surprising thing is that he even considered going to Sydney in the first place, given the recent events in his family and his state of mind.
In the midst of the summer hardcourt season, Agassi learned that his mother, Elizabeth, has breast cancer. This news came after Agassi had spent the better part of last year watching his youngest sister fight her own battle with the disease. No wonder Agassi has been on such a lousy run -- he has suffered a string of upsets and has not won a tournament since the Australian Open in January. And he has been in a rotten mood. In Washington a week before the US Open, Agassi broke three racquets in frustration during a final against Alex Corretja and lost in straight sets.
His performance at the Open was another case in point. Agassi had extremely mixed feelings about entering the tournament at all: he felt he should be at home, yet there was nothing he could really do to help.
"It's been a difficult year in many respects, with my sister having breast cancer and my mom was diagnosed with it a month ago," It hasn't been easy --- and it has given me the perspective that sometimes only certain tragedies can bring. My concentration hasn't been the easiest, but I think it's getting better."
Agassi has always lacked the single-minded focus of the more consistent champions -- it is almost the signature of his career to be prey to an interior tug of war, never one to put tennis ahead of his personal concerns and pleasures. Sometimes it has been costly for his tennis, but in this instance, surely the right side of his nature won out.
But playing the Olympics was important to Andre for two reasons. He wanted to defend the gold medal he won at Atlanta. The other reason being his father represented Iran in boxing.
"My time and attention should be with my family during this period," Agassi said in a terse statement upon withdrawing from Sydney last week.
Did he make the right decision? The last we heard of Agassi, he was home in Las Vegas, where he was making lunch for his mother every day, trying to get her to eat.
Is anybody going to tell him he's doing the wrong thing?
Entry for 'criminals' takes another turn
THE Australian Government has revealed it has let up to 40 Olympic visitors enter Australia who would normally have been barred as undesirable. The visitors were described as low-level criminal elements of the Olympic Family.
Among other controversial figures allowed entry is former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's army chief-of-staff, IOC member Major-General Francis Nyangweso. But Australia was not prepared to allow Hong Kong basketball chief Carl Ching or senior Uzbek boxing official Gafur Rakhimov into the country.
Prime Minister John Howard said Australia has stuck to its obligations regarding entry of Olympics officials.
Mr Howard reiterated in a letter to Olympics chief Juan Antonio Samaranch on Saturday the Federal Government's decision to bar two Games' officials from entering Australia. The International Olympic Committee has backed down from a confrontation with the government over the issue.
Mr Ruddock declined to identify who had received special treatment or what the grounds would have been for refusal.
Grounds for visa refusal are known to include criminal convictions and a previous history of overstaying or other breaches of visa conditions. Those allowed entry despite their records are thought to have included participants, officials and family members. The ban on the two officials is likely to lead to the IOC tightening contractual obligations on host cities to accept all members of the "Olympic family".
Of particular concern to the IOC is that future host countries could broaden the "safety and security" reasons Australia gave for the bans and impose political sanctions on officials or athletes, an issue especially if China won the 2008 Games. But on Sunday Mr Samaranch said he would not press the issue further with Mr Howard.
"We accept the decision. We have to trust and we trust the Australian government," he said.
Mr Samaranch earlier sought an explanation for the banning of Gafur Rakhimov, of the International Amateur Boxing Association, and Carl Ching, vice-president of the International Basketball Federation.
Mr Rakhimov, of Uzbekistan, has alleged links to the Moscow mafia and Mr Ching, of Hong Kong, is suspected of involvement with Chinese triads.
Mr Howard's letter said that the pair had been banned "after consideration of a number of factors including both commitments in relation to the Olympic Charter and concerns relating to the safety and security of the Australian community".
IOC vice-president and presidential hopeful Dick Pound was reported to be still hoping the two officials would be let in.
One of the officials, Mr Ching, offered a cash prize of $US1 million ($1.7 million) to anyone who could prove he was a criminal and has threatened to sue the Australian government and argue his case before the United Nations, saying he was not a member of any illegal organisation.
Mr Ching was denied entry into Canada to attend the 1994 World Basketball Championships.
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