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The United States behaved too chauvinistically during the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. At least that is the opinion of a number of European and American sport commentators after the conclusion of the event.
According to the Olympic charter, the Olympic Games are about competition between athletes, not competitions between countries. This distinction is drawn because of the ideal with which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was originally set up. The sporting event must lead to comradeship between different nations. Sport is the factor that unites all the participating nations. National differences can be set aside for at least two weeks. The host of the Games in February 2002 is accused of having forgotten this Olympic ideal from time to time.

Displaying the flag
Appropriate pride?
National athletes first
Quelling Nationalism
Links

Displaying the flag

The criticism began immediately after the opening ceremony. The so-called Ground Zero Flag was brought in with a level of ceremony normally reserved for the Olympic flag. This is the flag that was found among the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Centre. During the World Series Baseball Games and the Superbowl this flag was also paraded into the stadiums before the start of the competition. Supposedly IOC members originally protested the ceremony with the flag during the opening ceremony because of its strong national character. But American organisers of the Games dispute the fact that there was ever any difference of opinion with the IOC regarding this.

Appropriate pride?

The behaviour of the American public was also exaggeratedly chauvinistic. The public had good reason to be proud: the US won a total of 34 medals. Only a few less than Germany, the 'winner' of the Games. Nonetheless, the organisers and the press were aggravated by the spectators, who frequently did not have the patience to wait for the awards ceremonies if an American had not won the gold medal. The public left the stands in droves when it appeared that the Norwegian skier Kari Traa won the highest award instead of their personal favourites. USA Today, one of the largest American newspapers, chided its readers 'not to forget that we have guests'.
The enthusiasm with which each medal ceremony was seized as an opportunity to express patriotic fervour also evoked comments. 1500-meter winner Derek Parra skated around the rink with the national flag before other competitors had even had a chance to compete.

National athletes first

According to Russia and South Korea, partiality was also shown to North American athletes at times. To mention a few incidents: the Russian figure skating duo had to share their medal with the Canadian couple after insistance by the US. The Russian cross-country favourite was told that he was forbidden to participate just five minutes before the start of the competition because of alleged doping. The South Korean gold-medal winner for short track was disqualified in favour of the American Apolo Ohno. President Putin was only barely able to prevent the discontented Russian team from leaving the Games early in protest.
It is not the first time the United States has been accused of exaggerated patriotism during the Olympic Games. Excessive displays of national pride during the Summer Games in Atlanta in 1996 caused the French to refer to them as 'the American Games'. The recent Winter Games have been dubbed the 'Patriot Games'. According to the press, hurt pride after the attacks on September 11, 2001 was the basis of the American's will to win.

Quelling Nationalism

In the seventies, the former American chairman of the IOC, Avery Brundage, attempted to exclude team sports from the Games, as well as national anthems. This was to 'quell growing nationalism'. For the same reason, in 1977 the French Pierre de Coubertin committee insisted that the IOC segregate the participants by type of sport during the ceremonial part of the Games, rather than by country.
From that perspective it is praiseworthy that none of the Dutch skaters who were asked proved willing to carry the national flag during the opening ceremony. But the athlete's indifference to the patriotic aspect led to indignation on the home front.

Links

Sportsites
Olympic.org, site of the Olympic Games
Dutch Olympic Comité*Dutch Sport Federatie

Comments in the media
Frankfurter Algemeine, Germany
Le Monde, France
BBCi
, Great Britain
Trouw, The Netherlands
de Volkskrant, The Netherlands

 


 

 

march 2002