Bruno Banani Controversy Does Not Conflict with Olympic Ideal

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIIFebruary 7, 2014

Bruno Banani of Tonga prepares to start a run during a training session for the men's singles luge at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Dita Alangkara/Associated Press

Bruno Banani is a Tongan luger, the first Winter Olympian from the island nation.

Bruno Banani is also the name of a German underwear company, which sponsored the luger's bid for the Olympics, according to German magazine Der Spiegel (via ABC News). In order to gain the company's sponsorship, Banani legally changed his name. He is, as far as we can tell, the only Olympic athlete to change his name to an underwear company, or, for that matter, any other company. 

This has, of course, caused controversy, since the International Olympic Committee is not exactly keen on non-credentialed corporations sponsoring a portion of the games. 

But let's be clear: this "controversy" isn't really a controversy. Banani—who's real name is Fuahea Semi—is here on his own merits. The fact that a corporation sponsored his training is, all things considered, pretty innocent.  

2014 Olympic Men's Luge Schedule
DateTime (ET)Time (MSK)Event
Feb. 89:30 a.m.6:30 p.m.Men's Singles Run 1-2
Feb. 99:30 a.m.6:30 p.m.Men's Singles Run 3-4

Banani, who had never heard of luge when the Tongan government—at the behest of the Royal Princes— decided to create a winter sports program in 2008, has taken to the sport with incredible aplomb. He almost qualified for the Vancouver Games and qualified for Sochi after a 28th-place finish in a race in Park City, Utah. 

Michael Sohn/Associated Press

And while he's not a medal threat, and will probably finish near the bottom of the pack, his story actually embodies the Olympic spirit. Banani didn't let the fact that he lives on an island that has an average temperature of 60 degrees stop him from competing at the highest level.

Yes, he changed his name to receive the funding, but there's nothing technically wrong with that, it may be morally suspect, especially since the ideal of amateurism is front and center at the Olympic ideal.

But those days are, in reality, over. Professional hockey players will travel to Sochi, just like professional basketball players traveled to London in 2012.

And while there will be some that say this establishes a precedent—now pitching for the U.S. Softball team, it's Old Navy!—in reality, nothing much will come of this. If this "stunt"—if you can even call it that—leads to more nations and more people realizing a dream of competing at the highest stage, then it will end up being something pretty productive.

Besides, the Olympics often talks of being the "global" games. If this is one way to get warm-climate countries like Tonga into the Winter Olympics, then the IOC should be all for it. There is a plethora of untapped athletic potential in some of the warmer-climate countries; the IOC should do all it can to develop that talent. 

Was changing his name a bit much? Perhaps. But Banani has proven that he has the skills to compete on the biggest stage. And it's even more impressive that he started as a luger only six years ago. His story should be as inspiring as the Jamaican bobsled team from the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. Instead, he's being portrayed as a sell-out.  

At this point, it doesn't really matter how well Banani does in the competition. First place or last, he has blazed a trail for his country. Even if you question his morals—which, again, I do not—you have to respect his commitment and passion to the sport.