Racism at the Games?

August 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

It’s often described, as the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ but the Olympics is more than just about who can run the fastest, jump the longest or throw a javelin the furthest.

Underpinning the Games are three crucial values: respect, excellence and friendship.

Without a doubt all athletes who have the honour of representing their country at the Olympics uphold the ideal of excellence, giving their all at every stage of the competition.

But over the modern Games’ 116-year history the concept of respect (in other words, fair play) and friendship have come into question.

Consider Ben Johnson’s drug scandal at the 1988 Games in Seoul, when the Canadian sprinter crossed the 100metres finish line first only to be stripped of his gold medal three days later for taking the anabolic steroid, stanazolol. Hardly playing fair.

London not immune

And the London 2012 Games have not been immune to controversy when it comes to athletes failing to uphold the value of friendship, which focuses on “understanding each other despite any difference”.

Hours before the start of the Opening Ceremony, German flag bearer and hockey player Natascha Keller allegedly posted an offensive tweet, hitting a low blow at her Greek competitors.

The tweet, which surfaced on Friday and read: “The Olympic village is filled with barefoot Greek athletes. As soon as we see them we are afraid that they will ask us for loans” sparked outraged Greeks to post angry messages on Keller’s Facebook page.

Although the 2004 gold medallist Keller and her coach, Michael Behrmann, were unavailable for comment, the German national Olympic committee has said that their athlete did not post the tweet. “Whoever is behind this fake should be ashamed.

It’s a cowardly act, which deserves no further comment,” German Olympic mission chief Michael Vesper said in a statement.

Not a stand-alone incident 

This follows another, more explicit discriminatory and unfriendly incident, when just two days before the Games kicked off, Greek triple jumper, Voula Papachristou, was expelled from her country’s Olympic team after posting comments on twitter that were deemed racist.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee has said that Papachristou’s posts mocked African immigrants and expressed support for the far-right Golden Dawn party, which holds heavy anti-immigration views.

In a statement on her Facebook page and Twitter account, Papachristou apologised for her earlier comments, saying she was, “very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.”

She added that she would not have been accepted into the Olympic team if she was unable to uphold the values of the Games and, “Therefore, I could never believe in discrimination between human beings and races.”

Putting it into context 

No question about it, it is disturbing and disappointing to read that Olympic athletes are expressing comments that go against not only the Olympic values, but also the values of any decent human being.

However, a little perspective is necessary. Voicing your political views on Twitter (even if they are considered offensive) is a far cry from the actions from the 1936 Olympics Games in Munich.

Held during the time of the Nazi regime, at the last minute Jewish athletic stars Sammy Stoller and Marty Glickman, from the American Olympic track team were excluded so as not to offend their Nazi hosts. And Adolf Hitler was criticised for refusing to acknowledge gold medallist Jesse Owens, a black American track competitor.

When we look to history and see the discrimination and scandal that has gone before in previous Games, London 2012 is seeming to successfully uphold the values that make the Olympics more than just a sporting event.

Originally published for Mouth London 

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