The U.S. Olympic Committee, concerned that President Bush's reelection campaign is using the Athens Games for political purposes, will review a copy of a televised campaign ad that credits Bush with liberating athletes from Afghanistan and Iraq so they can compete here.
"In 1972, there were 40 democracies in the world. Today, 120," a narrator intones, over images of an Olympic stadium with flags flying and swimmers racing in a pool. "Freedom is spreading like a sunrise. At this Olympics, there will be two more free nations. And two fewer terrorist regimes."
The word "Olympic," as well as the brand and concept of Olympianism, belongs exclusively to the International Olympic Committee worldwide and to the USOC in the United States. The bylaws of both organizations prohibit the use of the Olympics for political ends, as does an act of Congress, which states that the USOC "shall be non-political and may not promote the candidacy of any individual seeking public office."
The Bush campaign, however, defended its usage of the ad and said it would continue to run through August. "We are on firm legal ground to mention the Olympics and make a factual point in a political advertisement," Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel told the Associated Press. The Bush reelection committee contends that the USOC technically only has exclusive rights to the Olympic brand to sell products or promote competition.
A USOC spokesman said the ad would be reviewed by the organization's director of government affairs, Steve Bull. "We're aware of it, but we haven't had an opportunity to review it," USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said. "We have contacted the reelection committee and asked for a copy, and once we've received [it], that will give us a chance to determine the extent to which marks and terms may be used."
The ad, which can be viewed over the Internet, also shows the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan as swimmers plow through the water. Iraq sent one swimmer here; Afghanistan sent none. The majority of Iraq's Olympic team consists of 24 soccer players, who did most of their training outside of the country, because it was too torn by violence.
Some members of the Iraqi soccer team have said they are angered by Bush's reference to use them. "Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," midfielder Salih Sadir told Sports Illustrated for its online edition. Iraqi head coach Adnan Hamad said, "What is freedom when I go to the stadium and there are shootings on the road?"
The Iraqi soccer players have asked their countrymen to support them in the interest of national unity, regardless of differences.