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In Honour Of Dale Oen & The Flag He Flew

May 6, 2012  - Craig Lord

In Memoriam:

A week ago this Sunday, Alex Dale Oen went to bed and put the light out for the last time in his life. I don't make the point to be morbid, hurtful, callous, obvious. The last time for anything (even if only, as a consequence, that means doing something for the first time), is meaningful to all our lives.

Dale Oen's passing was tragic, his youth, his dedication to the pursuit of excellence, the goal he had this summer, the success he achieved over several years in the pool, the thoughtfulness of a man who saw beauty in the silent reflection of the photographs he took of the natural world he thrilled at being a part of.

His world-title victory over 100m breaststroke in Shanghai last year unfolded against the backdrop of tragic events back home in Norway, where insanity, hatred, intolerance and a deep ignorance of the world and the human condition, claimed the lives of 77 innocent people.

Anders Behring Breivik is now on trial in Norway and each day brings another excruciating display of arrogance, intolerance and the stony faced brutishness of all that flushed through his mind the day he decided to take 77 lives (he has confessed to that but not to mass murder, claiming that his was an act of self-protection, the majority of Norwegians clearly out of their minds for allowing their population to be infected by Swedes, Poles, Danes, Germans, British - and Pakistanis.

The latter cuts to the chase. Alongside a hatred of "pure Norwegians", Breivik despised the 106,000 or so people in his country registered as belonging to those following Islam. I'm not sure what he felt about the 800 plus people in Norway registered under Judaism but the farcical, ludicrous mantra of purity that led to the deaths of 18 million people at a time when the Nazis held sway, surely counts him among the relatively tiny band of neo-Nazis that like to march up and down Germany (and elsewhere in Europe) to this day.

Three of their number in Germany made massive headlines this past year after two were found dead in a caravan and a third was arrested. They had been on the run for a decade and during that time they had embarked on a killing spree of German citizens of Turkish origin and descent as well as a young police woman who got in the way. The three were caught on video marching in a rally with the folk currently at the helm of the German National Party (NPD).

This summer, a cruise liner will leave a German port bound for Bergen, the beloved home of Dale Oen. It will deliver tourists to the shores of Norway at regular intervals, as it has for many a summer. One sailing set to carry supporters of the NPD and related organisations. I have no idea whether their purpose in Bergen is anything other than the simple need to take a break and take in the beauty of the world beyond the routine of life, all that hating doubtless a little tiring. 

Among the symbols they have attached themselves to is the Thor Steinar clothing brand now owned by International Brands General Trading, a company based in Dubai, where Islam is the official religion of the state.

The brand has used two logos, one which caused a rumpus because of its proximity to the swastika the Nazis borrowed from ancient history. In Germany, Thor Steiner clothes have been banned by a variety of authorities, including the German Bundestag (parliament), the Landtag of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (regional government), and several football clubs, including Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen and Hertha BSC.

Some Thor Steinar designs have used the Norwegian flag and and Norwegian names, such as Trondheim, Nordfjord, Nordstrand and Bergen. Stores selling the clothes have been named after Norwegian cities. The Norwegian government took the original owner of the brand to court (before the company passed into current ownership) in an effort to stop its national flag being associated with neo-Nazis. It lost the case but the clothes brand agreed in 2007 not to use the Norwegian flag in future designs.

In February this year, the Thor Steinar brand was central to a store opening in Chemnitz, formerly Karl-Marx Stadt in GDR times. The shop name was "Brevik", a Norwegian town but obviously uncomfortably close to "Breivik". There was a public outcry and local authorities are in the process of seeking to have the store closed down.

All a very far cry from the high achievement of a man with friends from all corners of the globe, as moving tributes from swimmers across the world over attest to, and a far cry the lives of those he competed against, such as that of Eric Shanteau, whose tale of overcoming and living with adversity is told in this fine Los Angeles Times feature.

"The key now is to try to get back to normal life and don't let this guy ruin any more days for us," said Dale One in the wake of the mass murders in Norway last year. "It's a tragic event and we need to keep those who lost their lives in memory and in our hearts and truly not forget them. So right now, its important just to grieve together and support each other."

The IOC - an organisation with much to think about when it comes to its past and indeed current links to the likes of nations that do no tolerate women in sport and build their sporting structures in dubious ways that speak nothing of the fair play at the heart of the Olympic spirit - demands that athletes keep politics out of Olympic sport during the two weeks of any Games. 

There are sound arguments for that, yet there are times when the quiet adoption by role-model world-class athletes of a symbol, such as a cancer ribbon or coloured armband, can serve to bond the world together in common sentiment. Perhaps a small Norwegian flag and "Bergen" might appear on a ribbon in the pool this summer as a way of honouring Dale Oen in a way that claims back his flag and the name of his city in the light he shone on them.

Let his passing mark the last time the good symbols and names of Norway are used for darkness.

This Sunday as you say a prayer or spare a thought for Alex, world champion, cherished son, brother and teammate and the loved ones he left behind, extend it too to the 77 who died because lunacy took a man blind to the brotherhood of men and the human condition that binds us all, regardless of colour, creed, gender, preference and choice in life.

Spare a though too next Tuesday for the Norway team, staff and swimmers, as they attend a memorial for their departed teammate in a service to be held by the Norwegian Seamen's Church at the start of a long and painful wait to know the official cause of death.

"To my greatest rival. My greatest friend. My brother in breaststroke. May you rest in peace. One love." - Cameron Van Der Burgh (RSA).