Racism, sexism tarnish Olympic Games
Moorehead is the 2016 presidential candidate of Workers World Party. With a father who was a basketball coach and a mother who admired Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, Moorehead says she has “always made it a point to watch the Summer and Winter Olympic Games as far back as I can remember.”
I will never forget the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City when track and field sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200-meter dash, carried out a heroic protest against the racist repression of Black people in the U.S. They bowed their heads and thrust their proud black-gloved fists in the air during the playing of the National Anthem. That protest drove home the point that the Olympics are not even close to being devoid of social inequality.
And it was true of the recent Summer Games of the 31st Olympiad held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — the first South American country ever to host the Olympics.
Over 11,000 athletes from over 200 countries participated in the games. The International Olympics Committee estimated that about half of the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, watched at least one minute of the games, whether on television or streaming on the Internet. For two weeks in August, the majority of the world’s people were inundated not only with astonishing athletic skills, but with bourgeois propaganda that reinforced the double standard separating people of color, women and transgender athletes from white male athletes.
It started with the opening ceremony when NBC commentator Meredith Vieira stated that the Portuguese “immigrated” to Brazil. She failed to mention that the Portuguese brought the slave trade to Brazil, which resulted in Brazil becoming home to the largest African diaspora in the world.
Gabby Douglas from the U.S., who during the London Olympics in 2012 had won the gold medal as best individual all-around gymnast, was horribly ridiculed on Twitter for not placing her hand over her heart when the national anthem was played after she and her teammates won the best all-around team medal in Rio. Douglas, who is African-American, felt compelled to apologize for not being “patriotic” enough. She also faced a sexist backlash for not wearing her hair in a certain manner and not smiling enough. Douglas left Rio before the closing ceremony.
Compare Douglas’ treatment to that of Ryan Lochte. The white gold-medal-winning swimmer was caught lying to the Brazilian government, claiming to be the victim of an armed robbery, when in fact he had been intoxicated and helped destroy a gas station bathroom. He was initially treated with kid gloves. The 32-year-old was described as a “kid” who deserved a “break” — a far cry from how 20-year-old Douglas was treated. (Huffingtonpost.com, Aug. 18)
Sexism dominated the Olympics
The Olympics were riddled with general and individual sexist comments against women. John Miller, an NBC Olympics’ chief marketing officer, stated, “The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one.” (fusion.net)
When Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in swimming, the original headline in the Mercury News did not even mention her name. It read: “Michael Phelps shares historic night with African-American.” The News issued an apology to Manuel, who spoke out against police brutality after her victory.
A 99-pound gymnast from Mexico, Alexa Morena, was accused of being too “fat.” The spouse of the Hungarian gold-medal-winning swimmer, Katinka Hosszú, was given “credit” for her victory. Bronze-medal winner for trap shooting Corey Cogdell-Unrein was described in the Chicago Tribune as the “wife of a Bears lineman.”
The achievements of multiple gold-medal winners like gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledeky were also denigrated. Biles was described as the “next Michael Phelps” and the “next Usain Bolt.” Her response on Twitter was, “I am the first Simone Biles.” NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines stated that Ledeky was so good that “Some people say she swims like a man.” Ryan Lochte said that Ledeky has “strokes like a guy.”
The brilliant South African runner Caster Semenya, who won the 800-meter track and field race, faced racism and transphobia in Rio. Semenya, a Black woman, has faced bigoted scrutiny for the past seven years on the part of the International Association of Athletics Federations, which have questioned whether she can compete as a woman due to a genetic condition known as hyperandrogenism, which gives her a raised testosterone level.
Even though she won the gold medal, the IAAF is still investigating her, which has led to a certain level of racist and sexist scrutiny on the part of other athletes. When she attempted to congratulate two of her white competitioners, Melissa Bishop of Canada and Lynsey Sharp of Great Britain, they both completely ignored her. Poland’s Joanna Jozwik, who finished fifth, stated: “I’m glad I’m the first European, the second white.”
Semenya responded, “It is not about discriminating [against] people and looking at people in terms of how they look, how they speak and how they have run. … It’s not about being masculine. It’s about sports.” (theguardian.com, Aug. 23)
The main source for information in this article is fusion.net.