The IOC Is Wrong to Ban Ukrainian Athletes From Commemorating the Dead in Kiev

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Feb. 19 2014 12:03 PM

Remind Me What the IOC Considers “Political” Again?

470247953-dmytro-mytsak-of-ukraine-in-action-during-the-alpine
Dmytro Mytsak of Ukraine competes in the giant slalom on Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee has apparently banned Ukrainian athletes in Sochi from wearing black armbands to commemorate those killed in Kiev yesterday:

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

The country's Olympic association said in a statement that it had asked the IOC if its competitors could mark the "deep pain over the loss of fellow countrymen" by wearing black armbands. "The answer was received from the IOC that in accordance with the Olympic charter it is not possible to do this."

The IOC's discomfort with any sort of political expression at the games has never appeared more confused or contradictory. Just in case you’re keeping score, an opening ceremony in which four of the six people who lit the Olympic flame were members of the State Duma from the Russian president’s party is in accordance with the Olympic charter but an armband meant to commemorate the deaths of 25 people, including both police and protesters, is too political.

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Athletes can use their helmets to promote their personal charities but not acknowledge the greatest tragedy in their country’s recent history—or the death of a fellow competitor, for that matter.

It’s OK for the president of the IOC to call for an end to “discrimination on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender, sexual orientation,” but the organization defends the forceful removal of an activist calling for the same thing.

It’s not as if the Ukrainian athletes won’t be asked about these events anyway. “Even just now at the start, at the finish, people are saying 'what's happened in your country, what's happened?' " said giant slalom skier Dmytro Mytsak. Sergey Bubka, the legendary Ukrainian pole-vaulter and president of his country’s Olympic committee—also a former MP from President Viktor Yanukovych’s party—has also called for an end to the violence on his Twitter feed.

Russia is directly involved in what’s happening in Ukraine, and armbands or no, the IOC can’t just make what’s going on in Kiev disappear for the next week. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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