July 23 marked the beginning of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which are being held in 2021 after being postponed for a year due to COVID-19. People from all over the world are excited to watch athletes from their countries compete, but a recent topic of conversation has revealed that many people in the U.S. feel an odd sense of patriotism and national pride during the Olympics, and during the Olympics only.
A lot of this can be attributed to who usually participates in the Olympics. Black athletes usually rise to the top of their sports, becoming national (and international) favorites because of their skill. This is one of the few cases when the talents of Black athletes are recognized and appreciated on a nationally-recognized stage. However, much of this is a prime example of how pervasive tokenization is in the U.S. Black athletes are rarely seen as anything other than an athlete, and whenever they break the norm, they are criticized.
The Olympics are notorious for not supporting athletes. For example, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were two track stars in the 1968 Olympics who, after placing first and second, respectively, raised their fists in protest of the state of the U.S. at the time. This resulted in their suspension from the U.S. team and removal from the Olympic Village. Despite their superior placement, both received death threats when they returned home. Now, more than 50 years later, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has relaxed the rules that limit athletes from expressing their opinions during their events. This decision allowed several women’s soccer teams to take a knee to protest racism prior to the start of their game.
In more recent events, the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) banned Soul Cap, a swim cap designed for Black hair. Their reason was that it didn’t meet their regulations. Sha’Carri Richardson, a promising track star, was suspended for 30 days after a drug test came back positive for marijuana. Richardson had just lost her mom and consumed the drug in an effort to cope — in a state where it was legal. Richardson had a chance to compete in the 4x100 relay race, but ultimately wasn’t selected by Team USA. Team USA’s track and field team released a statement saying that the rules regarding marijuana use by athletes should be reevaluated by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but felt “it would be detrimental to the integrity of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field if USATF amended its policies following competition, only weeks before the Olympic Games.” However, people are pointing out the hypocrisy of Richardson’s ban when athletes like Megan Rapinoe are using CBD in their workout routine while being publicly praised for it.
These issues don’t even begin to cover the problems that the Olympics cause. Countries that host the Olympics take on a huge economic burden. From building the Olympic Village for athletes to stay in to the large stadiums needed for events, many cities incur significant budget deficits to finance the event. This often causes cities to use tactics that displace lower income communities from their homes in order to make room for these projects and lessen the cost of production. Just last year, people in Tokyo, Japan — the host of this year’s Olympics — erupted in protest over how lower income communities had been mistreated during the process. These protests carried over to the opening ceremony this year, with protesters criticizing the government and the IOC’s decision to hold the event despite COVID-19.
The Olympics are just another example of how easy it is for corporations to exploit people for the sake of profits. Any change in rules comes too late for those who need it.
By Aminah Jenkins, Associate Editor