Monday, March 12, 2012

Is this the end of Olympic handshakes?

The spirit of friendship

Hand hygiene was the focus of an international disagreement of Olympic proportions – literally.

The British Olympic Association’s (BOA) chief medical officer recently advised against athletes shaking hands with each other at the London Olympics this July, in order to prevent the spread of illness.

However, Australian athletes will most certainly ignore that advice, as the Australian Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Tancred told Agence France-Presse.

“Australian athletes have always extended the hand of friendship and we will most certainly being doing that in London," said Tancred. “For us, someone not shaking hands would be an embarrassment. It's the Australian way.”

Australian athletes, he said, will simply wash their hands regularly and use antiseptic gel when necessary.

If we could, we’d shake Tancred’s hand right now in hearty agreement. After all, handshaking is an integral portion of our curriculum when we train etiquette consultants.

Our trainees in action!

While the origins of the handshake are not completely known, one theory is that it was a gesture of peace—if you were shaking someone’s hand, that meant that the hand wasn’t holding a weapon. In any case, the handshake is a popular greeting all around the world, expressing welcome, friendship, acceptance, peace—all things celebrated by the Olympics.

We understand why the BOA is concerned about germs—the Agence France Presse article notes that “a number of” athletes became ill at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

But consider the advice from the Australian athlete’s medical officer: avoid touching banisters and railings, wash your hands regularly—but don’t avoid shaking hands.

Sounds like good advice for anyone.

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