Don’t even try pulling one over on the International Olympic Committee. The ever-vigilant suits in charge of the Winter Games leaped into action when French skiers had the nerve to place tiny stickers on their helmets in honor of a fallen teammate.
Fortunately, the IOC brought the hammer down before the French could even take to the slopes for the men’s downhill Thursday, deeming the stickers to be a violation of rules that apparently forbid athletes from showing the least bit of empathy or coping with their grief. Whew, that was a close call!
If the overlords of the Olympic movement had relaxed their standards just a bit, we might’ve thought they actually have a heart. Instead, they left little doubt – again – that there’s no real caring or understanding for the athletes who ensure the IOC coffers are stuffed with billions of dollars. The latest absurdity is rooted in tragedy.
David Poisson, a popular veteran of the ski circuit who was nicknamed “Caillou” (”small stone” in French) because of his short, stocky frame, died in November while training in Canada. Authorities said he caught an edge and crashed through the safety netting, striking a tree. The 35-year-old skier was already dead when rescuers arrived.
Poisson’s death was a huge blow to the French team, which remembered him during the World Cup season by wearing tri-color hearts with “DP” in the center. At the Pyeongchang Games, the skiers wanted to wear a sticker with a drawing of a fish’s head, a play on the meaning of his name in French.
Not so fast, said the IOC. “The IOC told us to take them off, that we weren’t allowed,” French skier Brice Roger said. “So we took everything off because we could have been disqualified.”
Of course, this sort of foolishness is nothing new. At the 2010 Vancouver Games, US goalie Ryan Miller commissioned a special mask that included the words “Miller Time” (a play on his name and the popular beer slogan) and “Matt Man” – a tribute to Miller’s cousin, Matt Schoals, who had died some two years earlier while being treated for leukemia.
The IOC ordered Miller to cover the four words or risk being cited for a violation of the hallowed Olympic Charter, specifically the part that states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
Miller complied with part of the edict but went to bat for “Matt Man,” explaining how important it was to his family. In a stunning turn of events, common sense prevailed. The IOC allowed “Matt Man” to stay, visible to all as Miller helped the Americans capture a silver medal.
The mask issue keeps coming up at the Winter Games.
In 2014, American goalie Jessie Vetter had to remove an image of the US Constitution. But, perplexingly in Pyeongchang, the goalies for the US women’s team, Alex Rigsby and Nicole Hensley, are allowed to sport the Statue of Liberty. That drew the ire of many in the host country, who thought the IOC was playing favorites.
You see, South Korea goalie Matt Dalton, a naturalized citizen who was born in Canada, brought along a mask that included the image of Yi Sun-shin, a 16th-century naval commander best known for a victorious battle against Japan. Dalton apparently got the idea after seeing the admiral’s statue in Seoul. It was his way of showing how proud he was of his adopted homeland.
The IOC nixed the idea, ordering Dalton to cover up the admiral. If you’re having trouble sorting this all out, join the club.
Before the last Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, the IOC tried to make its guidelines a bit clearer but, as usual, only mucked things up even more. Athletes are now barred from displaying any item featuring “the wording or lyrics from national anthems, motivational words, public/political messaging or slogans.”
The Statue of Liberty is OK. A Korean war hero is not. Got it? That brings us back to Poisson.
We have no idea why the IOC would object to a small token of respect and remembrance for a two-time Olympian who gave his life for the sport he loved.
“I’m really very disappointed that they didn’t allow us to wear it, given that it’s not commercial advertising for anything,” French skier Adrien Theaux said after the downhill. “It was just to pay homage to a friend. We were doing it not to show off to people, but for us. It was a just a tiny drawing.”
Then he added, “It didn’t stop us from thinking about him.” Hey, better keep that on the down-low. There might be an IOC rule against that one, too.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry