The most recent controversy hitting the headlines is that of US fencer Alen Hadzic. According to a report from USA Today, Hadzic—Team USA’s men’s épée alternate—who is facing accusations of sexual impropriety, lost his appeal to move into the Olympic Village at the Tokyo 2020 games. The 29-year-old athlete’s movements are being restricted while in Tokyo, including isolating his stay to a hotel separate from the athletes staying at the Olympic Village. This has been characterised by USA Fencing as a “safety plan.”
Although Hadzic’s attorney—Michael Palma—denied the recent accusations put to him, he did confirm that the fencer faced a school year-long suspension from Columbia University from 2013 to 2014, following an investigation regarding sexual consent. Buzzfeed News reported that six women fencers, including two Olympic athletes, voiced their concerns to the Olympic committee—citing that the fencer should not be allowed to represent the US. One Olympic fencer—who even filed a complaint against Hadzic for predatory behaviour—told Buzzfeed, “He’s being protected again and again.”
While a white man accused of sexual misconduct is allowed to play, a black woman who smoked cannabis to deal with her mother’s death has been banned. Sha’Carri Richardson, a 21-year-old American sprinter, will be missing the 2020 Olympics after testing positive for marijuana. Richardson received a month-long ban—which began on 28 June—as well as USA Track and Field electing to leave her off the Olympic team. It also meant her record-breaking time at the US Olympic trials was “chalked off.”
Richardson cited that the use of the drug stemmed from the loss of her mother and the subsequent pressure she was under to perform. Her ban has been labelled as an anti-black move at the time and now? Even more so. A recent Forbes article titled ‘Cannabis Takes The World Stage At The Tokyo Olympics’ showcasing white athletes, like Megan Rapinoe, using CBD as part of their training has sparked outrage. Although THC—which Richardson was banned for—is still on the banned substances list, it showcases an obvious example of discrimination against black women in sport.
The anti-blackness towards black female athletes continues. Swimming caps designed specifically for natural black hair will not be allowed for use at the Olympic games. The swimming hats are designed and made by Soul Cap. GB swimmer Alice Dearing—the first black female swimmer to represent the country at the Olympics—partnered with the brand to “break down barriers for BAME swimmers.” The International Swimming Federation (FINA) stated they were unsuitable because they do not follow “the natural form of the head.”
Alice Dearing’s co-founding member of the Black Swimming Association, Danielle Obe, told The Guardian that this ban showcases the systemic inequalities in the sport, saying, “We need the space and volume which products like the Soul Caps allow for. Inclusivity is realising that no one’s head shape is ‘normal’.” Following the backlash, FINA has since apologised and is currently reviewing its decision on the swimwear accessory.
Two Namibian track and field stars have been banned from competing in the women’s 400m race at the 2020 Olympics. Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi—both aged 18—were at the top of their sport, with Mboma breaking the World 400m Under-20s record this year. They were front-runners for Olympic medal winners but all that changed after their banning. The reason? Their naturally high testosterone levels.
We’ve seen this case before with another black woman—Caster Semenya. In 2018, World Athletics ruled that athletes who have higher than the normal level of testosterone found in women would give those athletes an “unfair advantage.” Mboma and Masilingi are the latest successful athletes to be affected by the ridiculous rule that has since crippled Semenya’s career, as she too misses the Tokyo games.
The opening ceremony director of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games—Kentaro Kobayashi—was fired on the eve of the games due to a resurfaced video of him making a joke about the Holocaust in a 1998 comedy performance. Seiko Hashimoto, the Organising Committee president, told the Associated Press, “We found out that Mr Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy. We deeply apologise.”
This comes after news of Keigo Oyamada’s—the Tokyo Olympics composer—resignation after previous boasts of bullying disabled classmates surfaced. Writing on social media Oyamada said, “I sincerely accept the opinions and advice I have received, express my gratitude, and will keep them in mind for my future actions and thoughts. I apologise from the bottom of my heart.”
When looking at the controversies that have followed the Tokyo Olympics, it is unfortunately important to note that this is not a door to discrimination, disrespect or racism towards Japan. Many of the above decisions and situations are a result of a number of organising bodies—particularly the International Olympics Committee (IOC).
Japan has been under pressure this entire year about how it would handle the Olympic games during a pandemic with medical experts, its low-vaccinated population and the IOC all with conflicting opinions. It seems like the country is caught between a rock and a hard place. The contract between the IOC and Japan only allows the option for the IOC to cancel and not the Olympic host city.
The Euro 2020 final happened last night and shortly after—if not right when it became clear England had lost—the team’s black players were subjected to horrible racist abuse once again. Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka missed penalties in the 3 to 2 shootout loss to Italy and became the targets of disgusting attacks online.
As Saka, 19, stepped up to take the penalty, the pressure to perform could be felt through my television—the tension was palpable. It wasn’t just the pressure to perform as a player but as a black player. It’s the awareness that as a black person (or other person of colour) you are held at a higher, more impossible standard than your white counterparts. Your acceptance comes with conditions. You could sadly tell that Saka felt that. You must be perfect, you must be excellent, to be English. If you dare to ‘fail’ your very life is at risk—and your acceptance revoked.
Twitter user Michkeenah wrote, “it’s actually so mad to me that England loses a game and the first thing Black people and women have to think about is their safety. This country is a nightmare.” Another user, planetbrowngirl, wrote, “Please pay attention to the fact that the racial abuse towards Saka, Rashford and Sancho is coming from their team’s very own fans. Same fans who would’ve called them national heroes had they scored. Think about that and how the treatment of Black people is based on their performance.”
Gareth Southgate, England’s manager, was seen consoling Saka after the loss and stated that the racist abuse of players is “unforgivable.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also tweeted his condemnation of the abuse, “This England team deserved to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media. Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.” As they say, the fish rots from the head—so I’m not sure I believe you, Prime Minister. Many would argue—myself included—that Johnson and the Tory party have spent the last decade egging on this type of behaviour and rhetoric. In fact, they’re known to lead the pack.
I’ll just list a few examples, shall I? The UK government denied that systemic racism is real, has created voter suppression laws that would affect minority communities, ruled that foreign rough-sleepers would be deported, voted against protecting the NHS, created a point-based immigration system, backed a bill which would police peaceful protest, made defacing statues a punishable offence of 10 years, put forward a bill that aims to send asylum seekers to processing centres in Africa and Priti Patel even argued that England fans have the ‘right’ to boo players who take the knee. Do I even need to continue?
Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke was exposed earlier this morning for a text she sent to a Tory MP group chat following the game. Elphicke appallingly wrote, “they lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics.” Let’s not forget that it was Rashford (and not our Prime Minister) who tried to combat child food hunger and fed thousands of children across the country while being a brilliant footballer. These black players carried us to the finals. Let’s not forget it.
You know what’s depressing? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The violence that black people across this country face is soul destroying.
England’s Football Association (FA) released a statement in response to the racist abuse online stating, “The FA strongly condemns all forms of discrimination and is appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media.”
“We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team. We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible,” it continued. While there have been many statements being made about the racist abuse online and on the streets, little actual action has been taken by any authoritative bodies. In fact, it has been individuals online that have been taking it into their own hands.
A swathe of people online have been independently investigating the people leaving racist abuse and tracking down their LinkedIn profiles in order to report their atrocious behaviour to their employers or place of employment. Writer and antiracism activist Maxine Williams gives us advice on how we can do the same. When you see a racist comment, click the profile and report it immediately. If you are able to locate the user’s real name, then try searching it on LinkedIn to find the necessary information needed to report their racist behaviour to their employer or to the police. Let’s rally around these players as much as we can.
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This isn’t a one of a kind, isolated event. Racism in this country and in football is ever present and infuriating. Where are the police when these football crowds form? Whether it’s a BLM protest, a Pride march or a vigil for Sarah Everard, the police come out in droves and yet when England fans are trashing Leicester Square there’s not an officer in sight. Why is it that the most aggressive displays of violence by England fans go unchecked? Why is it that people are still unable to visit loved ones in hospital or have more numbers at funerals yet over 60,000 can congregate to watch the footie? This country has a lot of self-reflection to do.