PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Last night, USA Today reported that the IOC was considering requiring U.S. hockey goalies Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby to remove the images of the Statue of Liberty from their helmets, pursuant to a rule banning,“the wording or lyrics from national anthems, motivational words, public/political messaging or slogans related to national identity.” It wouldn’t have been an unprecedented move for the Olympic governing body. Just before these Games got underway, Canadian-born South Korean goalie Matt Dalton had to change his helmet, which typically features 16th century admiral Yi Sun-shin, and before the Sochi Olympics U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter had to remove a excerpt of the Constitution from her helmet.
USA Today specifically reported that USA Hockey was in discussions with the IOC after being told the images would have to be removed:
USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer said on Tuesday “discussions are ongoing” after the IOC said earlier the images would have to be removed.
USA Today speculated it would be resolved before the game between the Americans and (unaffiliated with Russia) Russians that just finished. And they were right—sort of. Their update reads:
The IOC has decided to allow the Statue of Liberty image to stand on the goalie masks belonging to U.S players Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby.
The Americans were notified the decision before dressing for their game against the Olympic Athletes from Russia on Tuesday.
But when I reached out to the IOC for clarification, before USA Today’s update was published, I was told that the entire thing was a misunderstanding and that the IOC had never asked for the helmets to be changed. Here’s what the IOC had to say in response to my questions about the matter:
There seems to have been a misunderstanding, we have not asked for the symbol to be removed.
Granted the end result is the same, but USA Hockey seems to have had an entirely different understanding of the situation. So I went and knocked on the door of the IOC’s communications office and tried to ask for clarification, and the communication officers who happened to be there were not having it. They said the email was they only comment they would provide. They repeated this when I pointed out the discrepancy. When I asked about the Korean hockey player’s helmet they said they would look into it and get back to me. I went back around the hall and sent them the following questions in an email:
What exactly constitutes a rule-breaking iconography?
Was there potentially an issue with the Statue of Liberty depictions or was that a completely false report?
Is there a specific list of banned images or is it a matter of discretion by the IOC?
None of this really matters, but it’s odd to see the IOC struggling to provide straight answers regarding the application of their own rules at their marquee event. We’ll update if we hear anything from them.