- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

Last week, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) warned the 550-member U.S. team competing in Athens this summer not to wave the flag in victory or display any overt “jingoist” sentiments. Mike Moran, consultant for the USOC, said to the London Sunday Telegraph, “What I am telling the [American] athletes is, ‘Don’t run over and grab a flag and take it round the track with you.’ It’s not business as usual for American athletes. If a Kenyan or a Russian grabs their national flag and runs round the track or holds it high over their heads, it might not be viewed as confrontational.”

On Wednesday, the USOC issued a statement from its chief executive, Jim Scherr, that reversed this stance, saying, “The [USOC] wants to make it absolutely clear that we have not — and will not — instruct our athletes to refrain from waving the U.S. flag during the upcoming Athens Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Connecting patriotism to security was always a ridiculous red herring anyway. Security is certainly a concern at the Games this summer, especially after the bombs that have rocked Athens recently. Terrorism, however, is nothing new to the Games. The most tragic example occurred during the 1972 Munich Games, when eight terrorists slaughtered the entire Israeli wrestling team. This was not because the Israelis waved their flag. To cite terrorism as a reason for inhibiting the patriotism of their athletes, the Olympic committee revealed a blatant ignorance of terrorists, which is troubling in itself. Rarely are terrorists suddenly incited to kill. Terrorists plan their attacks months, if not years, in advance.

No, the real reason behind the warning was a concern for good public relations. Bill Martin, president of the Olympic committee, told the Sunday Telegraph: “[The committee is] sensitive not only to the security issue, but to jingoism in its raw sense.” It’s a shame, but not surprising, that the virus of anti-Americanism has infected the Olympics. The USOC is trying to do whatever it can to have the Games in New York in 2012. For the wise minds at the USOC, coddling anti-American sentiments probably seemed like a logical, though appalling, way to do it.

No doubt our athletes will be subjected to anti-American fervor by foreign spectators just as our soccer team was heckled with chants of “Osama, Osama” during a match in Mexico earlier this year. If something like this happens in Athens, we have a suggestion for American athletes and spectators: Wave the flag higher. Though it would be nice to have the Games in New York, let’s focus on Athens. This summer, we trust our Olympic athletes to do what they’ve done for a hundred years: Compete, win and smile when the flag is raised a little higher than the others.

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