Britain says handshakes OK for its Olympians

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By ROB HARRIS, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — On the other hand ...

The British government has rejected advice from the Olympic team's top doctor that athletes should not shake hands at the London Games to avoid germs that could make them sick.

Government health advisers seemed perplexed by the guidelines, which Olympic hopefuls derided as "rude" and "pointless."

By the end of the day, the British Olympic Association had softened its stance.

Yes, the athletes will be able to greet the 10,000 visiting Olympians and hundreds of dignitaries with handshakes. They'll just have to make sure they wash thoroughly later.

"Team GB's 550 athletes will of course warmly welcome their fellow competitors from around the world this summer — there is no question about that," BOA communications director Darryl Seibel said Tuesday.

"We are not advising our athletes to avoid shaking hands. We are simply reminding them to follow common-sense measures by maintaining good hand hygiene to minimize the risk of becoming ill," he said.

During a briefing with a small group of reporters, BOA chief medical officer Dr. Ian McCurdie pointed out that the Olympic Village environment could be a "pretty hostile one" for infections and said a handshake ban was "not such a bad thing."

His comments went viral in Britain, drawing derision on TV and radio.

Even the Department of Health urged Olympians to disregard the advice.

"It goes without saying that we should all wash our hands regularly to keep them clean and prevent spreading bugs," the department said in a statement. "But there's no reason why people shouldn't shake hands at the Olympics."

And athletes took to Twitter to insist that they would still shake on it at the games.

"Can't we just carry around a small bottle of alcohol hand gel & not be so rude to everyone we meet?" tweeted Pete Reed, an Olympic champion in the coxless four.

Another Olympic champion rower, Zac Purchase, tweeted that the advice seemed a "bit pointless unless u r going to run around with disinfectant 4 every surface you come into contact with."

But triathlete Hollie Avil, who was forced to pull out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics after picking up a virus, quipped: "Maybe I shook too many hands in Beijing."

The BOA's clarification is now merely about minimizing the risk of germ transmission during the Olympics.

"After years of training and sacrifice, the last thing an athlete would want to do is unintentionally compromise or undermine their ability to perform at their very best at the Olympic Games, and basic, common-sense measures can go a long way toward making certain that doesn't happen," Seibel said.

That echoed the message from the U.S. team, which will send the most athletes to London.

"We always encourage our athletes at the Olympic Games to embrace the Olympic spirit and meet, greet and interact with as many different athletes from as many nationalities as possible," USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said.

The advice being given to Olympic volunteers on how to deal with delicate situations also emerged on Tuesday.

About 70,000 people have been given the advice at training sessions where they were asked to complete a quiz on dealing with diversity and inclusion.

One question in the workbook describes a complaint from a spectator made "very uncomfortable" by two men sitting next to him holding hands and asks volunteers how they would respond.

Among potential multiple-choice answers are the options to tell him to "stop being a homophobic idiot" or "politely ask the couple to stop holding hands."

The third answer is: "You explain that there is a huge diversity of people at the London 2012 Games, which includes gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals and couples."

In the gender section, volunteers are asked how to direct a member of the public to the toilets if they could not tell whether they were male or female.

"Ask them politely if they are male or female," ''panic," or "tell them where the male, female toilets and accessible toilets are," are the possible options.

London organizers said the advice is designed to "deal with a wide array of possible situations."

"Most major events offer volunteers similar guidance and we've had very positive feedback," the statement added.

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Rob Harris can be reached at www.twitter.com/RobHarrisUK

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