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
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
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.
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.
site of the Olympic Games
Olympic Comité*Dutch Sport Federatie
Comments in the media
Volkskrant, The Netherlands