British athletes advised not to shake hands at London Games

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“Let’s shake on it.”

Japan's Yuzo Kanemaru (left) and Britain's Martyn Rooney shake hands at the Beijing Olympics. The British team has been advised by its top doctor to avoid shaking hands at the London Games this summer to limit the risk of illness.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Japan's Yuzo Kanemaru (left) and Britain's Martyn Rooney shake hands at the Beijing Olympics. The British team has been advised by its top doctor to avoid shaking hands at the London Games this summer to limit the risk of illness.

Not if you’re one of Britain’s Olympic athletes.

The 550-strong British team has been advised by its top doctor to avoid shaking hands with rivals and visiting dignitaries at the London Games this summer.

The reason: Olympic germs could cost Olympic gold.

And while etiquette experts fear the host country could look rude, the British Olympic Association is far more concerned with illness spreading through the camp and thwarting the country’s bid for glory.

Britain’s minimum target is to match its fourth-place finish at the Beijing Olympics four years ago when it brought home 47 medals.

And BOA chief medical officer Dr. Ian McCurdie believes strong personal hygiene could prove to be the difference between success and failure.

Asked if the traditional British greeting of a handshake should be off-limits, Dr. McCurdie said: “I think, within reason, yes.”

“I think that is not such a bad thing to advise,” he added. “The difficulty is when you have got some reception and you have got a line of about 20 people you have never met before who you have got to shake hands with.”

McCurdie points out that the Olympic village environment could be a “pretty hostile one” for infections.

“Almost certainly, I believe, the greatest threat to performance is illness and possibly injury,” he said. “At an Olympic Games or any major event the performance impact of becoming ill or even feeling a little bit ill can be significant.

“Essentially we are talking about minimizing risk of illness and optimizing resistance.”

Will the 10,000 visiting Olympians and hundreds of dignitaries see it that way?

Britain’s authority on etiquette, Debrett’s, isn’t so sure.

“It is the normal English greeting,” etiquette adviser Liz Wyse said. “It is a bit of a sad thing if people are worried about shaking hands in case it spreads disease. It’s not very sociable.

“Obviously, there are concerns about keeping in a tip-top physical condition but it does seem a bit extreme to me.”

The U.S. team is issuing no such warnings about handshakes.

“We always encourage our athletes at the Olympic Games to embrace the Olympic spirit and meet, greet and interact with as many different athletes from as many nationalities as possible,” USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said.

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