SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- With a simple ceremony, a touch of pageantry and a tug of war match between Wales and Switzerland, the first ever World Games get under way tonight at Buck Shaw Stadium on the University of Santa Clara campus.
While the Games, featuring most of the lesser known sports, are patterned after the Olympics, there are some notable differences, not the least of which is a greater emphasis on the sports themselves and a total lack of nationalism.
Every Olympics since the 1956 Games at Melbourne, Australia, has been marred by at least one political incident from defections of individual athletes to last year's boycott of the Moscow carnival.
Taking those events to heart, World Games officials have eliminated nationalism from their competition except for identification purposes of the athletes. When the First World Games are launched tonight, there will be no national flags, no anthems and no team scoring.
About 500 of the 1,400 athletes who will participate here in 16 sports over the next 11 days will take part in the opening ceremonies, but instead of marching in as citizens of the various 58 countries entered, they will parade according to sport.
'Our theme,' said Dr. Un Yong Kim of Korea, president of World Games I executive committee, 'is sport for the sake of sport and a total disregard for where an athlete comes from.'
Kim will open the Games with a brief address and then Casey Conrad, executive director of President Reagan's Council on Physical Fitness, will greet the athletes as they march into the stadium under individual federation banners. The stadium will be decked with bunting, and bands will play, and then Wales and Switzerland will square off in a best-of-three tug of war match.
Tug of war is one of those sports Americans usually associate with picnics and beach parties, but in some parts of Europe and South America it is a serious sport. England, favored to win the tug of war gold medal, doesn't compete until Saturday, when there will be a full program of events.
The World Game sports besides tug of war are badminton, baseball, body building, bowling, casting, fin swimming, karate, powerlifting, racquetball, roller skating (broken down to artistic, speed and hockey), softball, taekwondo, trampoline, water ski and water polo.
It had been hoped that boxing would be included in these games, but under pressure from the International Boxing Federation, the sport was canceled because it is an Olympic event. Water polo also is an Olympic event, but here the competition will be for women only. In the Olympics, it's a men's event.
The United States has entries in every sport except fin swimming, while England and the Netherlands are entered in 12 and Canada in 11. Also here are badminton players from the two Chinas and trampoline competitors from Poland.
The Republic of China and Poland are the only Communist countries represented.