White doves are universally known as a symbol of peace, and there are traditions around the world that entail the release of doves during religious celebrations, weddings, and even funerals. The same tradition was adopted for the first time at the Antwerp Olympic Games in 1920 to symbolize peace (via Olympics). It was also a fitting time, as those were the first Olympic Games held after the end of World War I.
Usually, the release is scheduled for the start of the ceremony, when the Olympic cauldron is lit and the doves are then released. This tradition, however, is usually not followed during the Winter Olympic Games, as the weather conditions may be too cold for the birds, according to Info Please. In those cases, substitutions are made, such as one case when white balloons were released in place of the doves.
The release of doves was a reminder that although athletes participate in the Olympics for competition, they should do so in a peaceful manner and celebrate unity. The decades-old tradition, however, was put to a stop in 1988.
What incident stopped the tradition?
Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. Plenty of people were present to cheer for their country, and people all around the globe also watched in front of their televisions to witness the opening ceremony take place. The large cauldron was set up to be lit by three people. Several doves were perched on the mouth of the cauldron as the three men ignited the flame. What happened next was unexpected (via SB Nation.)
As the fire spread, some of the doves flew away, as was expected to happen. However, the majority of the doves stayed put and were incinerated in the fire as a result. The disastrous event caused the Olympics to change the tradition. According to NBC Olympics, the doves were released before the cauldron was lit at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Throughout the years, though, organizers choose to represent peace in a symbolic manner.
As reported by Bustle, performers in dove costumes replaced real doves at the Olympic Games in Sochi and London. There are certainly different ways to symbolize peace in the Olympics, and because of that one incident, organizers are getting more creative while making sure there will be no more “sacrificial doves” in future ceremonies.
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