A View from Main Street: Flag etiquette lacking at Beijing Olympics
Athletes from all countries mishandle their flags
There she was, alternately dangling the fabric like a rag doll, casually hanging it around her neck like a gym towel or rolling on the ground with it like an dirty, old blanket. She was Shelly-Ann Fraser, who last Sunday won the women’s 100 meter Olympic final in spectacular fashion, and the fabric? It was the the green, yellow and black flag of her country, Jamaica.
While it wasn’t a U.S. flag, Fraser’s irreverence toward her country’s symbol while joyously celebrating her victory made me queasy. Remember when Olympic athletes were handed their country’s flags on wooden flagpoles, which they patriotically paraded around the track? The image of heavyweight boxer George Foreman, who won a gold at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, comes to mind. There was this huge, powerful man waving a tiny, wooden flag — with pride. Now athletes from all countries drape their flags around their necks like Paris Hilton might wear a scarf.
Fraser’s display was especially unfortunate because the 22-year-old otherwise was so wonderfully full of genuine excitement for her accomplishment. But she was not alone in her flag-handling shortcomings. Usain Bolt, the out-of-this-world sprinter who smashed the 100- and 200-meter world records while winning his golds, also held his country’s flag with casualness.
But the flag handling issue isn’t only a Jamaican problem, it’s endemic in the Olympics. Especially in track and field, victors from all nations are handed (or thrown) their countries’ flags, which they hold irreverently while taking victory laps.
According to Title 36 of the United States Code Chapter 10, the U.S. Flag “should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise,” and it “flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if our country’s athletes, which otherwise are showing respect and courtesy while in Beijing, could display a little more respect to our precious Grand Old Flag? That would truly be golden.