Backpedaling U.S. and international Olympic officials said yesterday that the fragile American flag rescued from the rubble at ground zero will be carried into the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics Friday but not in the main procession.
“This will be a solemn, highly dignified procession,” said International Olympic Committee Director Francois Carrard, who had previously advised American athletes that carrying the flag was a political act and therefore not “proper.”
American athletes, police and firefighters will bring the flag forward after the main parade of athletes and “as the American anthem is played, it will be hoisted up and the American flag will be floated all over the world,” Mr. Carrard said.
The moment would connect “to the spirit of the Olympians,” said Salt Lake Organizing Committee Chairman Mitt Romney, who had a different story earlier this week. The games “were not designed to be a patriotic American display,” he said Monday, later adding, “This is not our time to talk about how great America is.”
The athletes originally requested they be allowed to carry the ground zero flag with them in the main procession through Rice-Eccles Stadium. But both American and international Olympic officials fretted the simple act would be seen as nationalistic and therefore a violation of protocol. They scrambled to find an acceptable compromise.
First they suggested the flag be raised, then lowered over the ceremony an idea that received the blessing of U.S. Olympic Committee Director Sandy Baldwin.
The notion created a ruckus in print and broadcast, billed in some corners as the “flag flap flip-flop.” Though the two sides presented a united front in Salt Lake City yesterday by adding the separate procession to the flag-raising, Mr. Romney warned that “heavy weather” could present some problems.
“But it is our intention that this flag is the flag that will be honored,” he said yesterday.
“They’re going to dictate what flag Americans can carry here?” Fox News personality Sean Hannity asked yesterday.
He asked listeners to call the New York Port Authority after learning that one Port Authority officer had been “relieved of duty” after calling the show Tuesday to share his views.
NBC, which will air the $1.9 billion Winter Games before an expected audience of 3 billion viewers, has decided to drop its on-screen, red-white-and-blue peacock logo beginning Friday night, replacing it with the old multicolor version.
“NBC executives didn’t want to keep such a visibly pro-USA symbol on air during an international event that’s meant to promote global unity. Past Olympic broadcasts on NBC (and other U.S. networks) have been accused of promoting American athletes to the exclusion of those from other nations,” noted Variety.
The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, released results from a study of Olympic documents.
“An undercurrent of anti-U.S. sentiment emerges in an unprecedented review of the confidential minutes of the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board, a tension that continues to fray the relationship between the IOC’s ruling members and its chief financial backer the United States,” the Times said.
In the meantime, online journalist Matt Drudge claimed yesterday that the International Olympic Committee had already banned a new Afghanistan flag raised for the first time on Tuesday. Other sources say Afghan athletes and officials have not been cleared to even attend the games.
One person is ready to carry the American flag: downhill skiing champion Picabo Street. She aspires to be the designated flag-bearer during the athletes’ march around the stadium Friday night. It would be, she said yesterday, “the highlight of my career.”