More than 10,000 Australians have signed a petition pleading for swimmer Emma McKeon to be allowed to attend the Olympic Games closing ceremony after she was banned by chef de mission Kitty Chiller.
The 22-year-old – her country’s most successful Olympian in Rio – was tipped to be Australia’s flag bearer at the Games finale after winning four medals in the pool.
But she won’t even be there at this rate – a punishment dubbed “disgraceful” by a Labor MP and “completely over the top” by two-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Melanie Wright (nee Schlanger).
McKeon’s heinous crime? Forgetting to send a text message.
She and fellow swimmer, Josh Palmer, failed to return to the Olympic Village on Tuesday night, but while the latter’s ill-fated night of partying is still shrouded in mystery, McKeon simply opted to stay with friends rather than travel to back to the Village alone – as per team protocol.
She did, however, fail to notify team management, and Chiller has banned her – and Palmer – from the closing ceremony, as well as telling the duo they are required to remain in the Olympic Village between 8pm and 8am, while all Australian athletes are now subject to a 2am curfew.
Effectively, they’ve been grounded.
Wright initially sounded off against the ban on Twitter, before setting up a petition.
Completely over the top punishment for @emma_mckeon. This girl would avoid getting involved in a pillow fight. Too harsh for a small mistake
— Melanie Wright OAM (@mel_wright) August 18, 2016
Please sign and share. Show your support for Emma McKeon. In simply trying to do the right thing, she made a… https://t.co/NT9jUVXZGf
— Melanie Wright OAM (@mel_wright) August 19, 2016
It quickly gathered steam, too, with Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell, cricket legend Adam Gilchrist and veteran netball international Natalie Medhurst were among the athletes to voice their support of McKeon.
Support wasn’t limited to sporting figures, either.
Labor MP for Keira in New South Wales, Ryan Park, pleaded for officials to exercise some perspective.
“Emma McKeon should not only be allowed to participate in the closing ceremony, she should be our flag bearer,” he told ABC Illawarra.
“Rules are rules and common sense needs to prevail too.
“This is a woman in an environment that is not familiar, in an environment that we all know has had some security issues.
“She wasn’t intoxicated, she wasn’t using illicit substances, she simply by her own accord forgot to text her team manager to tell her where she was.
“She could have been spoken to without banning her from this Olympic ceremony.”
McKeon and Palmer reportedly left a Copacabana nightclub in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
McKeon spent the night at the accommodation of swimming friends in the Copa district, while Palmer told officials a man forced him at gunpoint to withdraw $1000 from an ATM.
Palmer, who chose not to report the alleged robbery to police, was later found disoriented in the Copa district by two businessmen, who contacted the Australian Consulate.
Security and athlete safety has been arguably the biggest issue of the Rio Games and the threats are very real.
Palmer’s plight emphasises how quickly a night out in the crime-ridden city can quickly go pear-shaped.
Chiller and team officials have an arduous task ensuring the safety of their athletes.
But the main question being asked here is: Does the punishment fit the crime?