Owned and published by UMHB, The Bells is a biweekly publication. This content was previously published in print on the Opinions page. Opinions expressed in this section do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff or the university.
The handshake is a greeting dating back to fifth century B.C. ancient Greece. Today there are not many cultures that do not shake hands. It has essentially become the universal greeting.
British Olympic athletes were advised to break thousands of years of tradition and not shake hands with their competitors for fear of illness.
Dr. Ian McCurdie, the chief medical officer of the British Olympic Association, advised the athletes to refrain from shaking any competitor’s hand since the Olympics are a hostile environment to the health of the athletes.
Catching a cold before a competition is certainly a terrible thing and could destroy an athlete’s competitive edge. Germs are transmitted through the air as well, and it is surprising that McCurdie did not also hand out full hazmat suits.
There is only so much you can do to reduce the spread of disease. Even if you are a finely tuned athlete, you still are susceptible to getting sick. Fighting a war against the common cold is futile. Advising athletes to forego the time-honored tradition of shaking hands crosses into the threshold of paranoia.
Britain seems to be the only country to take such extreme measures. It is ironic that the host country would be so inhospitable and ask its athletes not to greet competitors properly. The Olympics are meant be the highest level of competition set on the world stage, but it is even more than that. It is about the assembly of different nations and sportsmanship.
The athletes of the British team already have enough stress from having to compete at home. They should not have to worry about disease lurking around every corner.
Faced with pressure and criticism from other countries, Britain has altered its warning. Instead of advising athletes not to shake hands, the BOA now advises rigorous hand washing and also will provide athletes with bottles of sanitizer.
Instead of snubbing the friendly gestures of their competitors, British athletes will run around with bottles of sanitizer dousing their hands after the slightest hint of physical contact.
McCurdie is too concerned with the health of the athletes and with winning that he lost sight of what the Olympics was really about.
Thankfully the English realized in spite of sanitation issues just how rude and awkward it is to simply refuse a handshake.