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Racial Controversies and the Olympic Games

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Racial Controversies and the Olympic Games

Sprinter Dawn Harper

Andre Zehetbauer/Flickr.com

Given that competitors from across the globe compete in the Olympic Games, it’s no surprise that racial tensions will flare on occasion. Athletes in the 2012 Olympic Games in London sparked controversy by making racial jabs about people of color online. Fans set off scandals as well by taking to Twitter to lob xenophobic insults at players from rival countries. And the International Olympic Committee itself was accused of anti-Semitism for not honoring the Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games with a moment of silence during opening ceremonies 40 years later. This roundup of racial controversies linked to the 2012 Olympics reveals the state of global race relations and how much progress the world needs to make in order for all people—athletes and otherwise—to be considered equals.

No Moment of Silence for Victims of Munich Massacre

During the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September killed 11 Israeli competitors after taking them hostage. The survivors of those killed asked the International Olympic Committee to have a moment of silence for the slain athletes during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre. The IOC refused, leading the family members of the victims to accuse Olympic officials of anti-Semitism. Ankie Spitzer, the wife of the late fencing coach Andre Spitzer, remarked, “Shame on the IOC because you have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family. You are discriminating against them because they are Israelis and Jews,” she said.

Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yossef Romano, agreed. She said that IOC president Jacques Rogge told her during a meeting that it was difficult to answer whether or not the IOC would have approved a moment of silence for the murdered athletes had they not been Israelis. “One could feel the discrimination in the air,” she said.

European Athletes Make Racist Remarks on Twitter

Before Greek triple jump athlete Paraskevi “Voula” Papahristou even had a chance to compete in the Olympics, she was kicked off her country’s team. Why? Papahristou sent out a tweet disparaging Africans in Greece. On July 22, she wrote in Greek, “With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food.” Her message was re-tweeted more than 100 times and the 23-year-old quickly faced an angry backlash. After the scandal she apologized, “I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account,” she said. “I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.”

Papahristou wasn’t the only Olympic athlete penalized for being racially insensitive on Twitter. Soccer player Michel Morganella was booted off the Swiss team after he referred to South Koreans as a “bunch of Mongoloids” on the social networking site. He made the race-based jab after South Korea beat the Swiss team in soccer on July 29. Gian Gilli, head of the Swiss Olympic delegation, explained in a statement that Morganella was removed from the team for having “said something insulting and discriminatory” about his South Korean rivals. “We condemn these remarks,” Gilli stated.

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