x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Olympic officials slap down ban on handshakes in London

The British Olympic Association has reversed itself, softening its previous ban on handshakes but asking athletes to follow common sense on 'good hygiene'.


LONDON // Visiting athletes will get a warm welcome to the Olympics after all.

British officials have rejected advice from their team's top doctor that athletes should not shake hands with competitors at the London Games to avoid germs that could make them sick.

Athletes and others derided the proposed ban as "rude" and "pointless", and the British Olympic Association (BOA) quickly softened its stance.

Now the athletes will be able to greet others among the 10,000 visiting Olympians and hundreds of dignitaries with handshakes. They will just have to make sure they wash thoroughly later.

"Team GB's 550 athletes will, of course, warmly welcome their fellow competitors from around the world - there is no question about that," Darryl Seibel, the communications director for the association, said. "We are not advising our athletes to avoid shaking hands. We are simply reminding them to follow common sense measures by maintaining good hand hygiene to minimise the risk of becoming ill."

During a briefing with a small group of reporters, Dr Ian McCurdie, the BOA chief medical officer, pointed out that the Olympic Village environment could be a "pretty hostile one" for infections and said a handshake ban was "not such a bad thing".

His comments went viral, drawing derision on television, radio and social media.

Even the Department of Health urged Olympians to disregard the advice.

"It goes without saying that we should all wash our hands regularly to keep them clean and prevent spreading bugs," the department said in a statement. "But there's no reason why people shouldn't shake hands at the Olympics."

Athletes took to Twitter to insist that they would still shake hands at the Games.

"Can't we just carry around a small bottle of hand gel & not be so rude to everyone we meet?" tweeted Pete Reed, an Olympic champion rower.

Hollie Avil, the triathlete who was forced to pull out of the 2008 Olympics after picking up a virus, quipped: "Maybe I shook too many hands in Beijing." The BOA's clarification is now merely about minimising the risk of germ transmission during the Olympics.

"After years of training and sacrifice, the last thing an athlete would want to do is unintentionally compromise or undermine their ability to perform at their very best at the Olympic Games, and basic, common sense measures can go a long way toward making certain that doesn't happen," Seibel said.