Miles Chamley-Watson of the USA shakes hands with Gerek Meinhardt of the USA after the final of the Men's Foil Individual at the Fencing Invitational, part of the London Prepares series in Nov. 2011. British athletes will have to think twice about extending their hand after the British Olympic Association's cheif medical officer warned of the dangers of possible injury and infection.
Credit: Richard Heathcote

British athletes have been advised to "use common sense" when shaking hands at the 2012 London Olympic Games, and told that a Japanese bow might be an appropriate solution to avoiding illness and possible injury.

According to Reuters and Eurosport, the British Olympic Association's chief medical officer Ian McCurdie told reporters at a recent briefing that minimizing illness and avoiding bugs was of paramount importance in the run-up to the Games.

It is reported that when asked whether that meant avoiding handshakes, he replied: "I think, within reason, yes. I think that's not such a bad thing to advise."

An editorial in The Guardian dismissed McCurdie's comments as "bizarre and outrageous". 

"This advice is offensive on multiple counts," it says.  "It subverts the universal ideals on which the Olympics pride themselves. It opens British athletes to accusations of insulting and, make no mistake about it, racist behavior. And it won't work anyway."

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AP says British government health advisers were perplexed by the guidelines, while athletes dismissed them as "rude" and pointless.

"Can't we just carry around a small bottle of alcohol hand gel and not be so rude to everyone we meet?" says one tweet from rower Pete Reed, quoted by the news agency.

Following the outcry, the British Olympic Association sought to clarify its position on hand shakes.

The BOA insisted it had not placed a ban on handshakes, but was simply urging a common-sense approach to hygiene, according to BBC Sport.

A spokesman is quoted as saying: "We are simply reminding athletes to take common-sense measures, such as washing their hands and using hand foam, to reduce the risk of catching a bug."

The Association also reportedly tweeted: "Team GB, to be clear: do shake hands, do use hand foam, do wash your hands, do reduce the risk of catching a bug. It's all common sense."

Other health warnings for British athletes at the Games, which start on July 27, include sleep deprivation, long working hours and the disruption of having to live in a new environment, AFP says.

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