Nicole M. Christensen insists she isn't running an anti-alcohol campaign, but the Brigham Young University sophomore is protesting Anheuser-Busch's sponsorship of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Christensen, a 19-year-old from Mt. Laurel, N.J., has gathered approximately 2,000 signatures from BYU students and faculty on a petition opposing the sponsorship. Although she concedes the petition probably won't stop Budweiser from showing up at Utah's Olympics, she's determined to present it to the Salt Lake Organizing Committee anyway."The aims of the Olympics and what alcohol represents are so dissimilar," she said. "It just doesn't make any sense."
The petition will likely have little effect, although Caroline Shaw, a spokeswoman for the organizing committee, said it will be accepted. "We always welcome views from the public," she said.
There's little doubt Budweiser will remain the official beer of the 2002 Winter Games. "The Anheuser-Busch sponsorship is a done deal. They've reiterated to us they'll be sensitive to the needs of our community," Shaw said.
Christensen got special permission from BYU administrators to set up a booth outside BYU's Harold B. Lee Library. She and a cadre of associates have been gathering signatures since soon after Anheuser-Busch signed a $50 million deal with a joint marketing venture of SLOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee on March 10.
Students plan to continue gathering signatures the remainder of this week and then evaluate whether they're ready to submit the petition to SLOC. So far, Christensen said, SLOC representatives haven't said if they will allow her to make an official presentation of the petition or if she'll just have to drop it in the mail.
Christensen isn't the first Utah resident to oppose the sponsorship. The Utah Alcohol Policy Coalition, the Utah PTA and the Utah Medical Association have expressed opposition to having the beer manufacturer help pay for the Olympics.
Dr. George Van Komen, chairman of the Alcohol Policy Coalition, even suggested that Utahns won't answer the call to volunteer during the Games because of the beer sponsorship.
"It'll have it's own chilling effect," Van Komen said. "There's no question, that some people will feel very uncomfortable" being associated with an event sponsored by a brewery.
The doctor praised Christensen's efforts. "My hope is her example will carry forth to other college campuses, as well as high schools, middle schools and elementary schools throughout the state."
Students can express a "much more powerful message than us old folks here who are up on a soapbox," Van Komen said, calling young people the alcohol industry's target audience.
Christensen hopes that adding her voice and those of the people who sign her petition will make a difference.
"We realize that the chances of them changing the agreement are pretty slim, but we still think it's worth it," she said.
Christensen said that sports fans and even athletes can drink if they want. But she doesn't think a beer manufacturer should be associated with an athletic event that has represented the pinnacle of fitness and ability for more than a century.
"At the very best, it sends a mixed message to the people who watch the Olympics," she said. "The purpose of the Olympics is to inspire people - especially youth - to excellence."
Christensen said the petition drive has been generally well-accepted at BYU, where all students sign a promise not to drink alcohol. Some students have criticized her efforts as hypocritical or fanatical, but she hasn't backed down.
"I just think every person has the responsibility to do what their conscience tells them," she said. A small group of friends and professors has encouraged her to continue petitioning.
BYU Assistant Student Life vice president and Dean of Students Jan Scharman granted permission for Christensen to conduct the petition drive on campus, but Scharman also stressed to the students that they shouldn't involve the university in their cause.
"We clarified that they're not representing the university," Scharman said. "They're expressing their own views."
The deal Anheuser-Busch signed earlier this month involves sponsorship of not only the 2002 Winter Games, but also the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, and 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. Traditionally, Olympics in the United States - in contrast to those in some nations - have been funded largely through sponsorships rather than by the federal government.
Christensen said that for now, she is confining her protest to the alcohol manufacturer's sponsorship of the Salt Lake Games. She didn't rule out the possibility that she would later expand her effort to include other relationships between alcohol and athletics.
Part of the preamble to the petition says, "This sponsorship not only misrepresents the values and standards of the State of Utah, but also undermines and degrades the very spirit of the Olympic Games."
In addition to opposing beer advertising during the Olympics, Christensen also takes exception with the lengths to which SLOC has gone to prove that alcohol is available in Utah.
Since alcohol-related deaths are prevalent, especially among teenagers, organizers should instead put their efforts into avoiding identification of the Olympics with alcohol, she said.