Sarah Burke was a Canadian freestyle skier and a four-time Winter X Games gold medalist. She died tragically at the age of 29 while training in Utah in 2012.
Burke was instrumental in pushing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include the ski halfpipe and slopestyle events in the Olympic program. Many athletes wanted to honor her during the Sochi Games by wearing commemoration stickers on their helmets.
However, the IOC has placed a ban on any helmet stickers, stating it doesn’t allow “political statements” during competitions; it is standing by its decision.
On Monday, a spokesman for the IOC, Mark Adams, said:
“She really needs to be well remembered, I think, and absolutely, we want to help the athletes to remember her in some way and there are all sorts of things we can do.
From our side we would say that the competitions themselves, which are a place of celebration, are probably not the right place to really do that and we like to keep that separate.
For us it is a question of what is appropriate and where would be the best place. As I say, we are very keen to help people who want to have a remembrance or do something and to do that in what would be the appropriate place.”
Adams went on to say that there were other actions which athletes could take to honor Burke’s memory. For example, they could organize some kind of commemoration for Burke in the Games’ Multi Faith Centre. He also suggested a press conference.
However, the IOC’s decision has upset and angered many athletes.
Australian snowboarder Torah Bright wrote:
“The IOC however, considers Sarah stickers ‘a political statement’ and have banned them. WOW. Sarah is a beautiful, talented, powerful women, whose spirit inspires me still. She is a big reason why skier pipe/slope are now Olympic events.”
Canada’s Mike Riddle, considered a favorite to win the ski halfpipe in Sochi, and a close friend of Sarah Burke, said last month that Burke’s memory will be a constant presence at the Games.
“I know that she would have wanted us to keep pushing the sport and go to the Olympics and represent Canada as best as we could,” he said, “She is going to be on our minds a lot the whole time we are there.”
In order to get round the ban, some athletes are considering wearing a snowflake pendant or badge, similar to one Burke used as a tattoo. But, according to IOC rules, that too may not be allowed.
The IOC has already sent a letter to the Norwegian Olympic Committee reminding them of the rules, following an incident in which four cross-country skiers wore black armbands. The team were commemorating the death of the brother of a team member.
The IOC always tries to minimize political statements and gestures in the games. but it is hard to see how remembering a true Olympian like Sarah Burke fits into that desire.