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Saturday, February 9, 2002
Members of foreign media frown on patriotic ceremony

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- While Americans gave the Winter Olympic opening ceremony red, white and blue raves, some members of the foreign press were critical of the festivities' patriotic overtones.

Most of their criticism was about the tie-ins to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, especially the procession of the flag recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center.

"This is wrong," Hafez Dahi, sports writer for Al-Siyassah daily newspaper in Kuwait, said as he watched part of the ceremony with friends back home. "This is supposed to be just sports."

U.S. athletes and police officers carried the flag into the stadium while the Mormon Tabernacle choir sang the national anthem at the beginning of the ceremony, which also featured a New York City police officer singing "God Bless America" and the gold medal-winning 1980 U.S. hockey team lighting the Olympic cauldron.

In an article written before the ceremony, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported: "It is annoying that they are bringing the Ground Zero flag. ... It doesn't have anything to do with the Olympics."

The Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet ran a half-page picture of spectators holding American flags, then criticized such a patriotic display in the accompanying article.

"Everywhere American flags were being waved. It felt more like the United States' Olympic Games than the world's," the newspaper wrote.

Not all Swedes were offended. The daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter praised the ceremony as "festive, lavish and filled with effects" in an article on its Web site.

"The ceremony was a big tribute to the U.S and all Americans got their share -- the Indians, the pioneers, the Mormons and the victims of the terrorist attack against the World Trade Center," Dagens Nyheter wrote.

Another Swedish tabloid, Expressen, wrote there was an "emotional statement against the world's terrorists," but possibly too much of one, adding that the use of the flag "even made the International Olympic Committee react that the statement was too political."

President Bush even broke from tradition by opening the games surrounded by U.S. athletes and adding that he was doing so "On behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation."

Paris' Le Monde praised organizers for providing "a quite sober and well-done spectacle, alternating lightness and gravity, never grandiloquent or vulgar."

The paper's staff apparently wasn't expecting much. They framed their praise around expectations that the ceremony "would become an exercise of exaggerated patriotism combined with a spectacle tilted toward bad taste."

Japanese newspapers were full of kudos.

Yomiuri Shimbun, the largest national paper, wrote that the "first major global event since the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States ... also became the center stage for America's declaration against terrorism."

The front page featured pictures of Americans signing and waving flags, alone with a banner headline that read: "Fight against terrorism, with pride and emotion."

Asahi Shimbun, another national daily, wrote: "Patriotic Olympia marks a fresh start for records and reconstruction."

"Numerous stars-and-stripes flags waving in the air. The opening ceremony turned out to be the event of American patriotism. It's highly politicized."