At times, it’s difficult not to think of that august body known as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a band of control freaks. They are, after all, the entity under which organizing committees file trademark infringement lawsuits against businesses that bear “Olympic” or “Olympia” as part of their names, even when those businesses have been there for years.
But the old (mostly) boys of the IOC have legitimate reasons for striving to protect the Games “brand” — Visa and McDonald’s, after all, pay good money to have THEIR names associated with the Olympics to the exclusion of others in their sectors. Vancouver 2010 organizers Vanoc had to do the same to protect the investments of companies that signed on to sponsor “our” games. That’s just business.
We can also see why the IOC would work to ensure that the Games don’t become a vehicle for political propaganda — not even when the opposition’s cause is just, as is the case with current host country Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law. In trying to tone down the rhetoric surrounding President Vladimir Putin’s — now there’s a control freak if ever there was one — anti-human-rights legislation, the IOC hopes the focus remains on the power of peaceful competition to unite, not on the host country’s internal workings. After all, every host country has its skeletons, past and present.
The IOC’s decree this week that wearing black armbands to mark the death of a friend, or a sticker commemorating the contributions of an influential athlete who died is, to our way of thinking, another matter entirely.
Sure, the Norwegian cross-country skiers who wore the armbands, and skiers and snowboarders who hoped to place “Celebrate Sarah” stickers on their helmets, were making a statement and using the Olympics as a stage. And sure, it’s a slippery slope — once you allow one sort of statement, it becomes more difficult to control other, perhaps more divisive, messages.
The website Snowboard.com put it this way: “The IOC decides ‘Sarah’ stickers are political propaganda, ban them from the Games. We call bulls---.”
If the lords of the IOC really examined the meaning of “Celebrate Sarah,” they likely would find that it meshes well with the high-sounding words contained in the Olympic Charter. We hardly think the legacy of Sarah Burke is political propaganda, and would argue that the public is smart enough to tell the difference.
— David Burke