IOC Reprimands Norwegian Women For Wearing Black Patch in Honor of Jacobsen’s Brother

Chelsea LittleFebruary 12, 201412
Marit Bjørgen wearing a black armband on her left arm in honor of teammate Astrid Jacobsen's brother, who died the day before Bjørgen won the Olympic skiathlon.
Marit Bjørgen wearing a black armband on her left arm in honor of teammate Astrid Jacobsen’s brother, who died the day before Bjørgen won the Olympic skiathlon.

SOCHI, Russia – Saturday’s Olympic skiathlon was an emotional day for the Norwegian women’s ski team. The day before, team member Astrid Jacobsen’s brother, a close friend of the team, died unexpectedly. In complete shock, the women rallied and all four starters (Jacobsen was not among them) skied strong races, including gold by Marit Bjørgen and bronze by Heidi Weng.

In the race, the women wore black armbands in honor of their fallen friend.

On the podium, they cried.

The International Olympic Committee took issue with all of this, and sent a written warning to Norway’s Olympic Committee. The alleged violation? Wearing a symbol that promotes anything other than the Olympics.

The IOC also banned freestyle skiers from wearing helmet stickers in memory of deceased skier Sarah Burke, a friendly and inspiring member of their community.

There is no specific rule which prohibits athletes from wearing memorial patches or stickers. And in the case of the black armband, the gesture did not even include a logo or symbol.

“It is not about the rule, it is about the question of what is appropriate,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told the press regarding the issue. “We would say that the competitions themselves are not the right place to do this.”

The rule he is referring to is the one that prohibits “political protests.” Both the freestyle skiers and the Norwegian women’s team have pointed out that in no way is their commemoration of a friend’s life a political statement.

Such rules are not enforced in this manner at other competitions. For instance, at biathlon World Championships two years ago, the Japanese and Korean teams wore black armbands in support of Japanese athlete Itsuka Owada. The morning of the women’s relay, she heard the news that her parents’ remains had been found in the wake of the country’s devastating tsunami. Owada managed to race, likely in part because of the support of the two teams.

However, the IOC has a different attitude.

“We understand their desire to honor their friend’s memory, but we believe that a competitive arena, where the atmosphere is one of celebration, is not the right place to do it,” IOC spokeswoman Emanuelle Moreau told the VG newspaper. “”With 2,800 athletes, there are unfortunately many who have lost friends and loved ones. We understand your grief, but we do not want to allow the competition to become a place of mourning.

Bjørgen has said that she does not regret the team’s actions, and that it was the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, the women’s coach Vidar Løfshus said that they knew they might get in trouble, but decided to wear the armbands anyway.

Others have called this action arrogant.

The head of Norway’s Olympic Committee, Inge Andersen, immediately said that he would protest the IOC’s action. Later, he went to bat for the women’s ski team and set up meetings with IOC President Thomas Bach and his right-hand man, Gilbert Felli.

Norway’s IOC member Gerhard Heiberg also weighed in, angering various people at various times. In his latest statement to the Dagbladet newspaper he said, “The IOC would really like to show a human face, you know, the kind with two eyes and smile.”

By Andersen’s account, the IOC knows that it made a tone-deaf blunder. However, that doesn’t mitigate the pain it caused the Norwegian women’s team to be told they weren’t allowed to mourn for a friend, and that it was their job to make competition venues a cheerful place even if they were feeling anything but.

“Gilbert Felli said bluntly that the IOC understands Norway, and will look at the regulations,” Andersen told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. “The IOC was very humble. Felli listened to what I said and promised to follow up after the Olympics. Then the IOC will look at the regulations. He definitely knew what I expressed on behalf of Norway Sports. The conversation between us lasted quite a long time.”

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Chelsea Little

Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.

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  • timg

    February 12, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    The IOC is a bunch of stuffy old men! What is the point anyway. Also who cares if athletes wear sponser logos?

  • JustinFereshetian

    February 12, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Wow, that seems completely ridiculous, it’s an armband, it shouldn’t be an issue. I think the argument that “a competitive arena, where the atmosphere is one of celebration” is really weak because for the majority of the field it’s far more common for races to not go their way than it is for them to go well. Only one person can win the race but there’s nearly 90 starting in most of the races, that leaves a lot of people out to dry. It’s a competition so while there will be winners there are also losers. Competition isn’t just about celebrating when you win, it’s also about learning to deal with loses and how to get better for the next time. That’s why I dislike that statement, competition does not create just an atmosphere of celebration. And clearly the Norwegians were dealing with a loss of another nature and from a viewer’s perspective it seemed like a completely healthy way to do so, not only that it seemed to give them that extra fuel and fire in the race.

  • Tim Kelley

    February 12, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    In the future xc ski racers should just double up a black Swix headband and wear it on their arm. That way if an IOC curmudgeon raises a stink, one can just say: “Political statement?! What are you talking about? See, this is a black Swix headband. It’s a spare in case I crash and lose the headband I started the race with. So buzz off …”

  • T.Eastman

    February 12, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Now the fists raised in Mexico City was a political statement, not this act of respect. I heard from a friend that’s a reporter that an official was in the one of the media rooms demanding that tape be placed over the brand names of the laptops! The IOC is out of control.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    February 12, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Skis, snowboards, etc all have logos. Just make the armbands apart of the uniform. Don’t think they will void the entire women’s Norwegian team, or the results will be pretty hollow.

  • chrispella

    February 12, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    The IOC should be banned from the Olympics

  • formerskier

    February 12, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Would be super cool if the racers responded to this by all wearing black arm bands!

  • formerskier

    February 12, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    . . . that is, all racers from every country.

  • Cloxxki

    February 12, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    The IOC does have a point though.
    The world is a bad sad place, and the competition are not the moment to express all kinds of personal emotions. IOC doesn’t seem to want a Mario Cippolini kind of show.
    The passing of the skier was well covered by commentators, and the story would have put a downer on viewer’s viewing experience even without the visual morning.
    I can understand the emotion of the athlete, and competition being their personal moment of expression as THE place to do it. But what does t help the deceased? Does it change our memory of them? Win the bloody race and point towards the sky after you cross the line. Express yourself in interviews before, and after. The sprint competitions especially are on average 10 minutes or less of your 24 hours. You’ll get more press outside that, especially at home.
    And is morning about the expression, or about the memory within? Since it was touching the whole Norwegian team I have no doubt all 4 million at home were feeling it just as much. And the timing of their fellow countryman’s passing, so close to the Olympics, only increased his posthumous presence. No need for back arm bands, I get that. Where to draw the line? Perhaps IOC should enforce wearing them at all times. No-one never lost a loved one, or went through something lie changing worthy of remembering.
    The black bands unintentionally draw attention to yourself, in a competition where every competition is supposed to be equal.

    It’s easy to get overly emotional about these untimely passings of special people. But come on, they’re star athletes. If they want to express something, calling a press conference ensure a packed press room. Overruling the IOC’s clothing rules because you feel like expressing yourself, that IS arrogant. Gambling you’re too important to be disqualified for it. This is Norway after all. Would Slovakia or some other minor nation that does get TV coverage get away with it?
    It’s all emotions, and putting them before the job at hand. Being an Olympian.

    On another note, Caldwell seems to have been taken out by Jacobsen’s obviously impossible attempt to cut the inside and the lack o room for Jacobsen’s poles? Whatever she’s going through, I think that a very very silly thing to do, and it may well have robber Caldwell of a medal. Statistically, it’s actually very likely. Caldwell came so close, after having to get a new pole, and the leaders not exactly hanging around. this is what happens in sprinting, but the attempt really was equal to intentionally crashing a competitor. Am I over-reacting wondering while maybe Jacobsen felt so self-important that she expected that others would make way or her to come from the back, way too late? All very understandable, and it could surely happen to me. But that does not make it excusable. Nobody owes Jacobsen more than the respect every athlete is entitled to, but she owed Caldwell a medal for the taking.

  • Strider2

    February 12, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Yea I also noticed how it was Jacobsen that tripped up Caldwell in the final. Really disappointing. I think it would have been very close race, difficult with Fabjan and Oestberg sprinting so well at the end, but you never know.

    Kind of interesting how most of the commentators on the men’s race said it was Anders who tripped up Marcus and Sergei. If you go back and watch the race in slow-mo you’ll actually see that Marcus fell all on his own (albeit a couple tenths of a second after Anders) and then Sergei ran into him. That was a shame too, it would have been really cool to see if he could have challenged Hattestad on the last hill. Sometimes it pays to ski it safe at the front i guess.

  • soysauce2014

    February 12, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    This is completely outrageous. I understand that the Olympics are about competition and sport but they are much more then that. They are about the devotion and journey that these athletes go through to get to the point that they are at. They are about comradeship and sharing common interests in one’s passion. They also celebrate lifestyle, sport, and life. The application of the rule that prohibits “political protests” at the games is under the wrong interpretation as the wearing of the black armbands is in no way political. They are commemorating a close friend and comrade who meant something to these spectacular athletes.While they may draw attention during a race what about all of the stylistic uniforms with flags and patterns all over them? If nothing was said about the black armbands they could almost completely blend in and appear like just a part of the uniform. Not only that but now the IOC ruling is causing even more attention to be put on this issue (which really shouldn’t be an issue) then would have if it would have been allowed with no written citation. Why get caught up in all of this nonsense and distraction when these athletes and spectators should be enjoying the games and enjoying life while they do it. I mean all these women were doing is celebrating and commemorating the life of a friend.

  • marycary

    February 13, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    The IOC are the biggest bunch of hypocrites. In Sydney, in the 2000 Olympics they had the flags at half-mast to pay respects to the then president’s wife who passed away. Anyway, what makes sporting triumphs so great is all the obstacles they faced and conquered and THAT should be celebrated.

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