Friday, January 17, 2003

The End of Long Silence or Boy Under Influence

Ivica Kostelić (Ivica Kostelic) finally broke silence about his alleged Nazi views. He issued statement in which he condemned the Nazism and reinstated that he respects all people regardless of race, nationality etc. – the standard disclaimer you could have expected. He then claimed that the statements were "taken out of context" and that he had been "under influence of a war movie".

The denial itself is something that was expected. What was not expected is the long silence by Kostelic. Basically, this scandal was brewing for more than a week. Anyone with the basic concept of public relations in modern world could have predicted proverbial excrement hitting the fan and start preparing damage control.
But not Kostelics. They simply ignored the whole thing, even after Nacional used it as front page story. And in the modern world, where the news travel at the speed of light, such silence could be interpreted only as old Romans did. Qui tacet consentire videtur. "He who is silent agrees".

Kostelics were silent for two reasons. First, they believed that the Croatian public would stand behind their sport heroes no matter what. Those expectations were sound and based on previous experiences. Only a couple of newspaper columnists actually bothered to comment on Kostelic's use of Wehrmacht as role models.

Second, they believed that the affair would stay local. Again, past experiences made this assumption very sound. When Goran Ivanišević (Goran Ivanisevic) returned from Wimbledon to Split in 2001, his triumphant speech in front of 200,000 people contained few homophobic lines. Nothing happened. Ivanisevic continued to play on foreign tournaments without having to worry about gay rights activists heckling him from the stands.

However, Kostelics forgot one thing. Their success created a lot of jealousy in neighbouring Slovenia – former Yugoslav republic whose alpine skiers were supposed to dominate their southern neighbours. And, naturally, anything that could have monkeywrench Kostelics was good news – Slovenian newspapers quickly broke the story and forwarded them to Austria. The can of worms was opened and when Austrian media began commenting on this story, something had to be done.

The straw that broke the camel's back was Kostelics' main sponsor – Hypo Austria Bank. This institution, rumoured to have business links with Heider, obviously didn't like idea of being associated with Nazism and their representatives threatened to end lucrative sponsorship deal. Faced with international embarrassment and financial ruin, Kostelics didn't have any choice but to engage in spin control.

However, despite his denials and apologies, and despite the fact that the Kostelics' statements (available at in MP3 format) could be interpreted in different ways, the damage has been done. One of Croatia's greatest sport heroes proved to be immature and irresponsible. His reputation is now stained and would remain as such until the end of his career.


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