How the IOC mistakes petty problems for major issues
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) doesn't get it. It never has, and it likely never will.
The IOC sent a letter to Team Norway on Monday, reprimanding their cross-country skiers for wearing black armbands during their race on Saturday. The Norwegians were honoring the brother of Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, who trained with the team, according to Reuters, and who passed away "suddenly and unexpectedly" on Friday, a day before the Sochi Olympics began.
Jacobsen wasn't competing in the 15-kilometre skiathlon on Saturday, but her teammates decided to honor her brother's passing, because they're a team, and that's what teams do. And isn't that what the Olympics are all about? Isn't that the type of message the games should be sending?
The IOC, apparently, doesn't think so.
"We understand your grief, but we do not want to allow the competition to become a place of mourning," the IOC said in a statement.
"It was a risk we took," said Norway's coach Vidar Lofshus. "We had a desire to do this and felt it was right."
The IOC's tone deafness doesn't end there. It also ordered freestyle skiers not to wear stickers on their helmets in honor of Canadian Sarah Burke, who passed away tragically two years ago, after a crash in a training session.
"We would say the competitions themselves, which are a place of celebration, are probably not the right place to really do that," the IOC said in another ridiculous statement. "We would like to keep that separate."
"We really think [Burke] is an important person to be remembered," IOC spokesman Mark Adams added, laughably.
The question we're left with: what matters to the IOC? It goes out of its way to make sure athletes aren't honoring the deceased in competitions, but looks past countless abuses on behalf of the host Russians.
Human Rights Watch has an entire webpage devoted to "Russia's Olympian Abuses."
The run-up to the Games has been marred by abuses against Sochi residents and migrant workers toiling on Olympic construction, and by the adoption of a discriminatory antigay law. The IOC, National Olympic Committees and corporate sponsors should urge Russia to end these abuses which violate the principles of "human dignity" and non-discrimination enshrined in the Olympic Charter, and work to prevent similar abuses by future Olympic host cities.
Following this description is a detailed list of Russian abuses: the forced evictions and resettlement of 2,000 families; the exploitation of "tens of thousands of migrant workers"; the environmental destruction of the Sochi region and local ecosystem; anti-LGBT discrimination; and crackdowns on the press and civil society. There's also the issue of rampant corruption. Yet the IOC's worried about tributes to Burke and Jacobsen's brother.
Statements from the IOC about Burke and the Norwegians do nothing but show how hypocritical the organization is - how it turns a blind eye to issues that truly matter, while cracking down on Olympic athletes who are trying to do right by their fallen competitors, and teammates.
What are the IOC's priorities? It's confusing. No matter what it claims, it doesn't seem to make human dignity and non-discrimination, championed in the Olympic Charter, its priorities. If anything it's the opposite.
Norway's Jacobsen will remain in Sochi and compete in Tuesday's individual cross-country freestyle sprint. She'll have to think twice about honoring her late brother, though, because the IOC will be watching, and will come down on her if she does. It will probably release another tone-deaf statement in response.
If the IOC has proven anything with respect to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the most expensive in Olympic history, it's that its focus remains on petty problems rather than major issues.
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