SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Athletes at the Sochi Games will not be allowed to use helmet stickers as a mark of respect for Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke, who died in an accident two years ago, the International Olympic Committee said on Monday.
The IOC has told at least one athlete, Australian snowboarder Tora Bright, to refrain from using a sticker.
“It is not the rule that really is very important at all actually,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. “In cases like this rules are not the most important thing. For us it is a question of what is appropriate and where would be the best place.
“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,” he said.
“We have, as with a lot of the athletes here, huge sympathy. She really needs to be well remembered ... and, absolutely, we want to help the athletes to remember her in some way and there are all sorts of things we can do.”
He said the IOC could help organise another event or news conference to remember multiple Games champion Burke, who died in January 2012 from injuries sustained in a training crash in Park City, Utah.
“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, but we absolutely will support and want to help any kind of remembrance that the athletes particularly want to do,” Adams said.
“We would, for example, help them if they wanted to have a press conference. We can organise something in the Multi Faith Centre, either individually or collectively. We really feel that, and we really think she is an important person to be remembered.”
Burke had successfully lobbied for the inclusion of the superpipe event at this year’s Sochi Games and several athletes have been seen wearing tape on their foot straps with her name written on it.
“I ride with a Sarah sticker on my snowboard and helmet always. The IOC, however, consider Sarah stickers ‘a political statement’ and have banned them. WOW,” Bright wrote on social networking site Instagram.
“Sarah is a beautiful, talented, powerful woman, who’s spirit inspires me still. She is a big reason why skier pipe/slope are now Olympic events.”
The IOC also sent a letter to the Norwegian Olympic Committee reminding it that its decision to wear black armbands in memory of an athlete’s relative who had died before the start of the Olympics in Russia was inappropriate.
The brother of cross-country skier Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, who also trained with the team, died suddenly a day before the Games opened.
Gold medal winner Marit Bjoergen brushed off the IOC letter.
“I know we got a reprimand. We were pretty much prepared for that, but it was worth it,” she said.
Team mate Therese Johaug told Verdens Gang newspaper said athletes should be allowed to mourn.
“It was important to do it, especially for me. This should be an arena for joy but it happened unexpectedly and we have to be allowed to go through the mourning process. You can’t just put it to one side and forget it. We couldn’t have done it any other way,” she was quoted as saying.
Norway’s four skiers in Saturday’s skiathlon raced with black armbands in memory of Jacobsen’s brother.
IOC officials said the letter to the NOC was not an official reprimand but rather a reminder of the rules.
“We did send a letter to the NOC about the issue, but I believe that’s the end of the matter,” Adams said.
Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Philip O'Connor in Rosa Khutor, Editing by Ed Osmond