As fun as they may be to watch, the Olympics have clear and prominent systemic issues.
( Mattias Hangst // Getty Images, Olympics Website )
After such a catastrophic year, one where we were forced to live through a worldwide pandemic and gently encouraged to be on lockdown for a few days before y’all got tired and gave up on caring for others, the Olympics are back!
Although the original 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were scheduled for last year (shocker, I know), back in the very beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided it would be best to postpone the games for another year. And here we are--- a year later. With the biggest international sporting event of the year, there is bound to be controversy and complications and confusions and contentions and--- you get the point, it’s messy sometimes!
While I could talk about the ramifications of hosting the games for hundreds of athletes during a pandemic, or how these host countries tend to displace thousands of poor families while creating the infrastructure for the games, I’d rather focus on the racist microaggressions from the IOC that often fly under the radar of this grandiose spectacle.
For one, let's talk about the most recent example of these small microaggressions: Sha’Carri Richardson. Overnight, Richardson took the world by storm when she beat all other racers in the 100-meter final of the U.S. Olympic Trial with a time of merely 10.86 seconds. The internet went batshit -crazy- over this. Not only was she going to be representing the U.S. in the Olympics and possibly bring back the gold, but she was going to be doing it all in style. From the orange hair to the acrylics and lashes, Richardson was unapologetically herself in all the best ways. But the storm was quickly halted. Just a few days after her race, she tested positive for marijuana in her system and was put on a one-month suspension as well as having her 100-meter win revoked. Even though she would've been able to participate at the Olympics after her suspension period, the U.S. team decided against having her on their team, and so, she is not running.
While this news is upsetting itself, it's important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Marijuana is a prohibited substance and Richardson broke that rule; no one is denying that. Instead, people are questioning why this ridiculous rule is still in place, especially in a world where cannabis is becoming more legal and destigmatized. Well, it all goes back to why it was outlawed and stigmatized in the first place: the war on drugs, which mostly impacted marginalized communities. While we often think about this as a U.S. phenomenon, it actually spread well beyond the scopes of this country. When looking back on it, the U.S. actually played a large role in the reason why the Olympics added marijuana to its list of prohibited substances in the 90s. In fact, the U.S. financially helped the IOC make sure that “recreational drugs such as marijuana” were added to that list.
So, while we can be upset that this happened, we have no one else to point fingers to than our own country for its heinous war on drugs and its targeting of Black and brown people, which is still happening to this day.
Oh, and to further point out bullshit, Megan Rapinoe, a white Olympic athlete, is openly able to talk about and promote her use of cannabis products before she competes… with no repercussions or backlash from the Olympic committee. While it's important to point out that there is a difference in each story as Richardson was using THC and Rapinoe was using CBD (and different rules apply to each chemical), it seems like maybe the worst possible timing to do this. Especially when one considers CBD was only just removed from the infamous list of prohibited substances in 2018.
The IOC’s long list of microaggressions don’t end with Richardson though. Take the issue of the swimming cap ban. In an effort to better accommodate to Black swimmers’ natural hair, the brand Soul Cap came out with their line of hair caps meant to better protect Black hair which is often bigger than their white counterparts. Although the product simply intended to serve as another type of swim cap for swimmers, the IOC banned said caps from the games because they don't fit “the natural form of the head.” Yikes.
Or how about the fact that the IOC wants Caster Semenya to either take drugs to lower her natural testosterone levels that she was born with or forfeit competing in further Olympic games. Now, because her testosterone levels are naturally higher than the average female she is being forced out of the games. On the other hand, Michael Phelps, a white athlete who was also born with a genetic difference that gives him an upper hand when playing, hasn't been forced to do anything because of it. In fact, Phelps was “celebrated” for his anomalies, unlike Semenya.
The sad part is, however, that the examples don’t stop there.
While it's okay to enjoy the games and relish in American Pride while you see Simone Biles continuously amaze the world, it should be noted that the Olympic games are not perfect and there is a lot of systemic work that must be done to undo the wrongdoings of such an old institution.