The International Olympic Committee has nixed a plan to allow U.S. Olympians to carry an American flag found at ground zero of the World Trade Center collapse into Rice-Eccles Stadium during the 2002 Winter Olympic opening ceremonies.

That decision has drawn fire from the New York-New Jersey Port Authority, which has custody of the flag.

"Our athletes would have liked to have done it," U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Moran said.

Last week, the USOC asked the IOC's coordination commission if U.S. athletes could carry the recovered flag into the stadium. The flag would have been lifted by several athletes at the rear of the procession of American Olympians into the stadium, Moran said.

That plan was rejected by the IOC, however.

On the nationally syndicated Sean Hannity radio show Friday, the port authority's Curt Killinger said the IOC rejected the proposal because they thought the flag was "too political."

"They missed the point that people from 86 nations were killed in the World Trade Center," Killinger said on the show.

Moran said the reason the IOC rejected the idea was because many nations have tragedies every year and if every nation competing in the Games had some sort of tribute for every tragedy the ceremonies could become too long. "I wouldn't call it political at all," he said.

The flag, which was flying atop one of the World Trade Center towers before they were hit by hijacked airplanes on Sept. 11, will arrive in Salt Lake Wednesday, Moran said.

The USOC and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee have arranged to raise the flag above Rice-Eccles Stadium during the opening ceremonies making the historical flag the official host country's flag, Moran said.

"We think that would be fitting," he said. "Protocol wise (the IOC) would prefer that it would better be exhibited as the host country's flag."

The idea to bring the flag to the opening ceremonies parade of athletes was first developed by the USOC about a month ago, Moran said.

"We thought about that amongst ourselves and thought it would be a good idea," he said.

The IOC, however, disagreed.

SLOC President Mitt Romney issued Tuesday a statement saying Salt Lake organizers weren't involved with the flag flap.

Romney said that SLOC has planned for some time to have a Sept. 11 tribute as part of the opening ceremony. The tribute will occur during the NBC televised pre-show which will air nationwide between 6 and 7 p.m. MST.

Besides raising the ground zero flag during the national anthem at the beginning of the opening ceremony and having it fly throughout the ceremony, SLOC plans to honor New York firefighters and policemen, Romney said.

"This tribute is designed to honor all of the heroes and victims of September 11," he said. "The IOC approved our plans for this tribute."

"There is a protocol for the athlete's march," said Francois Carrard, an IOC leader. "The athletes parade is a clear global, universal parade of all the athletes of the world and that follows the protocol that has been established. We are applying the same rules."

Carrard said the highest form of respect for the victims and heroes of Sept. 11 is to hoist the flag high above the stadium. "For us, a form of respect is to hoist the flag. We are also coming to the (United States) as a form of respect."


Contributing: Sara Giles

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