Racism in sports: the olympics

by Molly Dye
July 29th, 2021

On July 18th, in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, Germany’s soccer team walked off the field after a Black player on the team, Jordan Torunarigha, was racially abused through alleged racial slurs. Though this year’s Olympics had not yet started when the incident occured, it is not the first time that racism has been discussed as a problem at the Olympic Games.

From the 1936 Berlin Games to the 1968 Mexico City Games to this year’s events, the Olympic Committee as well as individual country teams have struggled with racism that impacts many BIPOC athletes. In 1936, Black American athletes struggled with the idea of participating in Olympic games that were held in a country with a racist regime. In 1968, Black sprinters Tommie Lee and John Carlos raised their fists at the winning podium to protest racial discrimination and injustice in the United States. After their protest, Smith and Carlos were suspended from the U.S. team and removed from the Olympic village.

The Olympics have also been the cause of displacement of BIPOC citizens outside of the United States. In the lead-up to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, between 35,000 to 70,000 Favela residents were displaced due to construction of the Olympic Park. Despite a wave of protests, thousands in Favela neighbourhoods were left homeless.

In recent news, Black track runners Sha’Carri Richardson and Brianna McNeal have faced punishment and suspension from the Olympics after failed drug tests. Richardson tested positive for THC, a non-performance enhancing drug, which she used in a state where the drug is legal. Though Richardson had high chances of being a top-runner in this year’s games, her suspension made it impossible for her to compete. McNeal received a five-year suspension from competing in the Olympics after she missed a drug test in January due to recovery from an abortion.

Black women in particular have spoken out against the racism they have experienced as Olympians. Simone Biles, a gymnast and gold-medalist, described her experience on the TODAY show. “I was on a world scene, and what made the news was, another gymnast saying that if we painted our skin black maybe we would all win because I had beaten her out of beam medal, and she got upset," said Biles. "And that [was] really the news, rather than me winning worlds."

As the Tokyo Olympics progress, Olympic athletes have noted the importance of speaking out against racism and doing what they can to best represent their countries. "My job is to represent this country no matter what; no matter if an individual feels like they need to say something or harass me," said Asian-American gymnast Yul Moldauer. This year’s events will be a testament to whether or not changes have been made when it comes to racism in the Olympics.