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Olympic Games / Jeux Olympiques

Last modified: 2011-01-28 by rob raeside
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[The Olympic flag] image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán
Flag adopted: 1914.


See:


Where can the Olympic flag can be seen?

The IOC guards the dignity of the Olympic symbol and therefore limits the hoisting of Olympic flags to specific situations.

  • At the Opening Ceremony a large Olympic Flag was carried into the stadium and hoisted in a prominent position, where it remained for the duration of the Games.
  • Several Olympic flags, and flags of each participating country, are flown at each Olympic event and over the Olympic Village.
  • A large number of Olympic flags are flown throughout the host city.
  • At the end of the Closing Ceremony, the Olympic flag flying over the Games is slowly lowered, and then slowly carried out of the stadium.

After the games, most of the Olympic Flags are taken down again, but there are a few places where the Olympic flag can be found throughout the year:

  • The original Antwerp flag, presented by the city of Antwerp to the IOC in 1920, finally found its resting place in Lausanne in 1988, after travelling from Olympic city to Olympic city for 68 years.
  • An Olympic flag is hoisted each day at the headquarters of the IOC in Lausanne.
  • Every eight years an Olympic congress is organized. No doubt, the Olympic flag will be flown at the site during the congress.
  • The World Championships in any Olympic sport can request permission to fly the Olympic flag during the event.

International Olympic Committee Website, July 2000; Pascal Vagnat, 11 December 1998


Has the Vatican's flag ever been carried in the Olympics?

I doubt it. For starters, Vatican City State not big enough (population-wise or athletic training facilities (a must for aspirant Olympic nations) wise.
David Kendall, February 9, 2002


Where does the IOC get the Olympic national flags?

I believe from each country involved, they are to provide a sample of the national flag in official specifications.
David Kendall, February 9, 2002


Do the individual nations specify to the IOC how their flag is designed at some point in the planning for the next Olympics?

Of course, many flags remain unchanged, but we see some changes at each Olympics. I gather that governments are contacted about 6 months before, or something. This is a guess.
David Kendall
, February 9, 2002

Have there been any last minute flag changes in Olympic history?

Yes, I can think of a famous one - Bosnia. I believe that the very first place that the current Bosnian flag was unveiled was Nagano, having officially adopted it that day or the day before, and leaving the organizers wondering what the flag would look like. I remember that the sign-bearers (i.e., the volunteers that carry the name of the nation preceding the flag bearer) in Nagano were dressed in the national colours of each country's flag, except the Bosnian one (dressed in the colours of the old flag), since they weren't informed in time.
David Kendall, February 9, 2002


Do the organisers of yachting events have to get special dispensation from their local maritime authorities not to use an ensign?

Olympic yachts are dinghies that don't fly any ensign, really. They only have flags painted on the sails, and that's not considered to replace the ensign. It's more like just a sign, like the country initials. If it weren't the Olympics, they'd have publicity instead. In other competitions (Americas Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, etc.), boats fly the respective civil or yacht ensign.
Jose C. Alegria, 12 August 2008


What happens to the flags after the Olympics?

The main flag is presumed to go into storage until the next Olympic Games. The flag that was passed to the representative of the next organisers of the games goes to the city that will organise the next games. At the start of those games it is often passed to a representative of that same city again. Before WWII all symbols remained with the organiser of the past games, but this was changed after the war. All other flags are either used as gifts or are sold as souvenirs/to recoup losses.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 18 November 2010


Which flags were used as "national" flags for non-independent entities in earlier games?

- with reference, for example, to India, Malta, Philippines in the 1936 Games at Berlin.

For India, probably a Red Ensign with the Star of India in the fly. This flag was used at the opening of Luton Airport in 1938. In a newsreel of the opening ceremony an oblique shot shows a row of flag poles starting with the Civil Air Ensign, Canadian Red Ensign, Star of India on a Red Ensign, Union Jack, South African orange, white and blue flag, Newfoundland Red Ensign and the rest indistinguishable.
David Prothero, 24 September 2009

At http://www.ansichtskarten-center.de India is represented by the UJ with the Star of India in the centre (see also Bermuda).
Jan Mertens, 24 September 2009


Are flags dipped in honour at the Olympics?

There have been many instances during the opening ceremonies where national flags have been dipped during the parade of nations to honor the head of state of the host country. It is not universally done, and I can't recall any country doing it at Beijing, nor at Vancouver. However, as a kid, watching the 1976 Montreal games on the BBC I remember most of of the Commonwealth countries dipping their flags to the Queen (or her representative: I can't remember if she was personally there or not). The US flag is not dipped to even the athletes' own head of state, the president.
Terence Martin, 12 July 2010

The practice of not dipping the US flag arose from the refusal of American Olympians to dip the flag in particular circumstances and for specific political reasons, and only later was it made a general practice and added to the US flag code. In 1908 an Irish-American flag-bearer refused to salute the British monarch, and in 1936 the team decided to refuse to salute Hitler. "This flag dips to no man" policy arose post facto to justify those refusals, but was not really a pre-existing policy at all.

An extended quote form http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/news/mc080608.htm provides additional info, including instances of other nations refusing to dip:

The tradition of unbowed flags dates not to 1908 but to 1936. While the U.S. team at London in 1908 by most accounts did not dip its banner to Great Britain's king at the first opening parade in Olympic history, American flag- bearers did dip the Stars and Stripes in 1912 at Stockholm, in 1924 at Paris, and in 1932 at Lake Placid and Los Angeles.

The refusal, then and now, is not free from politics but has often been intended and interpreted as a signal of disrespect. It has always been an assertion of nationalism - though not always purely American nationalism. Indeed, history reveals the original patriots who refused to dip to the British monarch were animated as much by Irish as American sentiment. Many of the U.S. athletes, including the flag-bearer, were Irish immigrants or descendants and were incensed that their former countrymen were forced to compete under the Union Jack rather than an Irish flag. They intended to insult the British - and the furor that ensued indicates they succeeded.

Between 1908 and 1932 when the U.S. sometimes dipped and sometimes refused, American nationalism came to the fore in 1928 when Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in his brief stint as U.S. Olympic team commander, enforced military protocol to prevent a dip. In 1932, U.S. teams dipped at home to honor their own leaders. Since 1936, when in a clearly political move designed to register discomfort with the host nation, the U.S. team refused to lower the Stars and Stripes to Adolf Hitler in spite of direct requests by the Nazis to do so, no American team has ever dipped the flag.  Though American television viewers probably consider the tradition non-controversial and a federal flag code enacted in 1942 dissuades citizens from dipping, the practice of refusing to lower the Stars and Stripes has historically produced heated debates in both domestic and foreign venues. In 1908, the refusal to dip the flag elicited as much condemnation as praise from the American media. Ever since, the custom has been controversial.

The U.S. is not alone in refusing to dip. When the Soviet Union joined the Olympic movement in 1952, its team refused to dip the crimson hammer-and-sickle. Other Soviet satellites followed suit, creating an amusing irony at Squaw Valley in the winter of 1960 when the American press condemned the Warsaw Pact for failing to dip to Vice President Nixon while praising the U.S. team for the very same gesture. By the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics, even as the dissolution of the Soviet Union eroded the Cold War, 60 of the 64 flag-bearers adopted the American habit and refused to dip.
Mark Dyreson is an associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State's University Park campus and author of the new book, ''Crafting Patriotism for Global Domination: America at the Olympics'' (Routledge Press).
Ned Smith, 13 July 2010

1906: The very first time all athletes were entered by the National Olympic Committees, and therefore the first time the Olympics truly had national teams, was for the First Intercalated Games, Athens 1906. For the first time, the Opening of the Games was an event in its own right, and during this event these teams marched through the Panathinaiko Stadium behind their flags. King George I of Greece was personally present, and the United States participated.

The New York Times reported:
"King George arose and briefly declared the games opened. All the participants, Greek and foreign, then moved in procession around the stadium, headed by bands of music. As the 900 picked athletes of the world filed past the royal family dais they presented an imposing display, and were cheered to the echo. Passing the royal presence, the standard bearer of each team impressively lowered the flag of his country, King George gravely returning the salute."
I expect with such a description we can assume this paper would have mentioned it had the USA formed an exception.

1908: London 1908 too had an Opening Ceremony. After all teams had marched to their places in the stadium, they all lowered their flags to King Edward VII. However, as the teams marched out of the stadium and past the monarch, the Irish-American flag bearer and shot putter Ralph Rose did not lower the flag of the United States. The reason for this is unknown. Rose may simply have been too nervous to notice the right moment, may have forgotten protocol require him to lower the flag twice, may have misinterpreted the protocol's description that his team's column was supposed to "salute" the king on their way out, or he may simply not have known, as he himself claimed afterwards. But it's also possible that he and some of his team mates had decided on this for any number of the following reasons:
- At the opening, the decoration of the stadium had included the flags of China and Japan, which did not partake in the games, but not those of Sweden and The United States, who did.
- As several members of the team were Irish-Americans, they might have sympathised with the Anglo-Irish who would have preferred to partake under an Irish flag, rather than under that of the United Kingdom.
- The team may have disliked that, as the flags were lowered together, everyone was supposed to cheer for the British king.
- It may be that lowering the flag for an earthly king was considered an insult to the Stars and Stripes, an explanation attributed to another team member, discus thrower Martin Sheridan. This attribution apparently first appeared in print in 1952, though: his own pieces at the time don't mention anything of the kind.

After this had gotten some attention in the American media, it was apparently considered proper, as it happened in several Olympic Games, though not all of them. In 1942, the not lowering of the flag was coded into law.
http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/JOH/JOHv7n3/JOHv7n3i.pdf

The US is not the only one not to lower the flag at the games since then. They're not the only one with a law forbidding that either: Sammy Kanadi posted one time that Indonesian flag law also forbids dipping the flag. Mark Sensen once posted a question, though, whether such flag laws would actually be valid at the Olympic Games, as these to most countries will be abroad.

But since Sydney we've noticed that nobody seems to lower the flag any more. Lowering flags is also not specified by protocol. Like in 1908, the protocol currently seems to speak of "saluting", without mentioning whether this involves a flag. Instead, most the flag bearers now swirl the flag to accept the enthusiasm of the crowd as the team enters the stadium.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 13 July 2010


When was the first flag parade during the opening ceremony?

Athens 1906.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 13 July 2010


When was the first time that the victorious athletes got honoured by hoisting their national flag and playing the national anthem?

Athens 1906 (for the flags; I don't know about anthems).
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 13 July 2010