Racist Tweets, Doping Cheats and Empty Seats: 10 London Olympics Controversies

3:53 PM PST 07/31/2012 by Seth Abramovitch
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It wouldn't be the Summer Games without a few scandals -- and the 2012 Olympiad is full of them.

From vacant stands to extinguished flames and fencing sit-ins, we're just five days into the London Olympics, and already the controversy has been as plentiful -- and colorful -- as any Olympiad in recent memory.

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Here then, in no particular order, are the 10 most dubious, scandalous and just plain hilarious controversies to befall the 2012 Summer Games.

1. Logo Debut and Subsequent Seizures

The controversies started early -- as far back as 2007, actually, when the London Olympics committee debuted their strangely jagged pop-art logo, created by the Wolff Olins design firm. Blowback started immediately, from outraged graphic designers who found the image aesthetically offensive in every way, to threats of an Iranian boycott because it looked like it spelled the word "Zion."

An accompanying video released at the same time superimposed fast-moving animations over diving footage. The group Charity Epilepsy Action protested the video, saying they had received numerous "calls from people who had suffered fits" after watching it. An Olympics spokeswoman responded at the time, "We are taking it very seriously and are looking into it as a matter of urgency."

2. Mitt Romney's Gold Medal Blunder

A pleasant trip overseas turned into a PR nightmare for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, when, just hours before meeting with England's leaders, Mitt Romney told NBC News' Brian Williams that it was "hard to know just how well" the games' security measures would work out and that there were "a few things that were disconcerting" to him about safety. He also threw the British Olympic spirit into question, asking: "Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? That's something which we can only find out once the Games actually begin."

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The comments drew stinging rebukes from the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said of Romney -- who oversaw the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games -- "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere." London Mayor Boris Johnson later told a huge crowd in Hyde Park, "There's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we are ready. Are we ready? Yes we are!" The crowd roared its approval

3. Munich-Gate

As he pledged he would in The Hollywood Reporter's cover story, Bob Costas, the face of NBC's Olympics coverage, made good on his promise to acknowledge on live TV the IOC's refusal to honor the Israeli athletes and coaches slain at the 1972 Munich Games. 

“The Israeli athletes now enter behind their flag-bearer Shahar Zubari,” said Costas in his remarks. “These games mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 tragedy in Munich, when 11 Israeli coaches and athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. There have been calls from a number of quarters for the IOC to acknowledge that, with a moment of silence at some point in tonight’s ceremony. The IOC denied that request, noting it had honored the victims on other occasions. And, in fact, this week [IOC president] Jacques Rogge led a moment of silence before about 100 people in the athletes village. Still, for many, tonight, with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost, and how and why they died."

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4. Twitter-versies

The introduction of the ADD-afflicted hive mind known as Twitter to the carefully calibrated Olympics ecosystem has resulted in a rash of controversies. 

Racism is sure to rear its ugly head whenever this many nations compete, but Twitter now gives it an easily accessible broadcast platform. A racist Twitter comment made against Rafaeli Silva, a Brazilian judo fighter, by another competitor eliminated from the competition was condemned by Brazil's Olympic Committee. Michel Morganella, a Swiss soccer player who was sore about losing to South Korea, was expelled from the games for calling the team a "bunch of mongoloids" that "can go burn." And Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou never even made it to the games, banned for a July 22 tweet that read, "So many Africans in Greece at least West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food."

Guy Adams, an L.A.-based editor for The Independent, had his Twitter account suspended after issuing a series of tweets that were highly critical of NBC's time-delayed coverage -- one of which encouraged his followers to e-mail a high-level NBC Sports executive to complain, with the executive's e-mail address included. Adams later had his account reinstated.

A British teen was arrested after making a series of profanity-laden threats on Twitter against British diving star Tom Daley and could be prosecuted under British law.

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And Conservative MP Aidan Burley drew sharp criticism from members of his own party, including Prime Minister Cameron, after he tweeted that Danny Boyle's Opening Ceremony, titled Isles of Wonder, was nothing but "leftie multicultural crap."

5. Um... SPOILER WARNING?

Already getting pummeled for its tape-delayed coverage, NBC really blew it with its handling of Missy Franklin's 100-meter backstroke race Monday. Before the race even aired, the network played a promo commercial in which an announcer crowed“When you’re 17 years old and win your first gold medal, there’s nobody you’d rather share it with.” Still in the dark as to how the race would turn out? Not to worry: The message came with the image of a smiling Franklin holding up her gold medal and embracing her proud parents. The network now says "safeguards" are being put in place to ensure this kind of gaffe does not happen again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Made in China

The U.S. Olympic Team's Ralph Lauren-designed uniforms and blue berets weren't exactly a hit with everyone on social media, but it was the fact that they were manufactured in -- gasp! -- China that had politicians breathing fire in the weeks leading up to the Opening Ceremony.

“The pride of our Olympic athletics goes hand in hand with the pride of American innovation and manufacturing,” wrote Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in a letter addressed to U.S. Olympic Committee officials. “We shouldn’t be going to the world stage with anything less. From head to toe, Team U.S.A. must be made in America.”

Lauren later responded with this statement, in which he pledged that it would never happen again:

"For more than 45 years Ralph Lauren has built a brand that embodies the best of American quality and design rooted in the rich heritage of our country. We are honored to continue our longstanding relationship with the United States Olympic Committee in the 2014 Olympic Games by serving as an Official Outfitter of the US Olympic and Paralympic teams. Ralph Lauren promises to lead the conversation within our industry and our government to address the issue to increase manufacturing in the United States. We have committed to producing the Opening and Closing Ceremony Team USA uniforms in the United States that will be worn for the 2014 Olympic Games."

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7. Doping

The most scandalous of Olympics controversies usually involve the use of banned performance-enhancing substances. Canadian track star Ben Johnson and North Korean shooter Kim Jong-su are just two athletes forever tarnished by their Olympic doping associations. (Wikipedia has a full list of every Olympic athlete to test positive for banned substances. It's quite extensive.)

London 2012 already has its share of such controversies. Luiza Galiulina, a 20-year-old gymnast from Uzbekistan, has been provisionally suspended from the games after testing positive for furosemide, a diuretic that can mask the presence of other prohibited drugs. And Albanian weightlifter Hysen Pulaku was banned Saturday after testing positive for steroids, acording to the IOC. And while she has not tested positive for anything, a piece in The New York Times raises questions about doping in China's swimming program, after Ye Shiwen, a 16-year-old swimmer on their team, achieved superhuman speeds that would turn Aquaman green with envy.

8. Fencing Faux-Pas and Other Questionable Calls

A match between Germany's Britta Heidemann and South Korea's Shin A Lam came down to a single touch of the sword and one second on the clock. But the clock never started, and Heidemann used the extra time to land the winning touch. Declared the loser after an appeal to the judges, Shin refused to leave the piste for 45 minutes, sitting on the floor in tears. Told she must leave, Shin stood up in defiance and ultimately was escorted out by security. She earned a standing ovation from those left in the stands.

Buzzfeed breaks down the dramatic events here.

Elsewhere, a water polo match between Spain and Croatia erupted in controversy after officials disallowed a Spanish goal in the last moments that would have tied the game. The replay showed the goal was within play time, but Croatia won the match 8-7.

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And CNBC commentators Teddy Atlas and Bob Papa questioned the judging of a lightweight boxing match between Brazil's Robson Conceicao and Britain's Josh Taylor, saying the scoring was biased. Conceicao later told reporters: "[The judges] were very malicious. It's not fair because I think the judges favoured him because of the crowd and that shouldn't happen in a competition like this."

9. Empty Seats

As cameras pan to the crowds at events like gymnastics, swimming and beach volleyball, the sight of large swaths of empty seats has left many asking: Whither the fans? Games organizers insist 2.1 million have already attended events, with between 86 and 92 percent of ticketholders showing up to events so far. The blame, they say, falls to official sports governing bodies from around the world, who fail to fill their allocation of prime seating in view of TV cameras and photographers. 

The solution? Embarrassed officials scrambled to fill the stands on Monday with uniformed British soldiers.

10. Where's the Flame?

The much-ballyhooed Olympic cauldron -- itself made up of 204 separate copper torches representing the competing nations -- is apparently not so easy to get a hard look at. Currently standing in the Olympic Stadium at a relatively low height, visitors will need an actual ticket to a track event to see it. Addressing concerns, Coe told reporters Sunday, "It was not created to be a tourist attraction."

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And the flame -- the eternal symbol of Olympic spirit -- actually had to be extinguished so they could move the cauldron to another spot in the Stadium ... resulting in some not-so-stirring images hitting the web.

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